Security cameras have been discovered in several locations in the Russian mining town of Barentsburg, including the restaurant and bar area of the Barentburg Hotel, according to a letter sent by The Governor of Svalbard to The Norwegian Data Protection Authority. This happened in "connection with various inspections and visits" in early summer.
"But we assume that there are more cameras," wrote Lt. Gov. Jens Olav Sæther and Legal Advisor Magnus Rognhaug in the letter asking the data protection agency to follow up on the matter.
"We want them to assess whether this is happening in a legal manner," Rognhaug told Svalbardposten. "We have no direct information that they are contrary to the rules, but we are presuming that."
In addition to the hotel, a popular destination for tourists as well as residents in Svalbard, officials with the governor's office found surveillance equipment at two other places:
• On an outbuilding on a hill north of downtown. Cameras were discovered on all four corners of a building linked to the satellite operations of Trust Arktikugol, the Russian state-owned company that oversees the settlement.
• Inside a conference room at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute. Audio recording equipment was also discovered.
"The equipment in the governor's judgement falls under the notification requirement under the Personal Data Act," the letter states. "It also appears that the requirements for signage and notification that the area is monitored are not met."
The governor does not know if any recordings are being used, stored or deleted. It is also not known how long the cameras have been installed, or if they are currently in operation.
A review by Svalbardposten of archive photos from the past winter shows two cameras inside the hotel: One in the reception area and one in the restaurant (see photos).
Ann Rudinow Sætnan, a privacy expert and a professor at the Department of Sociology and Political Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, confirmed that is monitoring equipment.
"They seem to be a type of PTZ-dome camera," she wrote in an e-mail to Svalbardposten. "It is a small camera that can be panned, tilted and zoomed inside a dark glass ball, so that those who are inside the coverage area can not see where it is pointing."
Rognhaug said the officials in the governor's office believe there are more cameras in the city.
"We assume that Trust Artikugol, if they feel they need for supervision, has set them up in other places where people congregate," he said.
Trust Artikugol been informed of the findings and about the notification to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority. The governor has so far not received a response from the mining company.
The letter from the governor is dated Aug. 19 and the data agency has not yet looked into the matter.
Generally speaking, it takes a lot for the agency to give the green light to a business wanting to install surveillance cameras, especially in places where individuals congregate, said Stian Tveten, an executive officer and advisor at the agency
"The starting point is that it is not allowed to monitor restaurants or places where people are staying," he said.
"These are areas where people have an expectation of being in peace and that should not be monitored."
There are a few exceptions, such as monitoring of storefronts (particularly without visible sidewalks), lines outside a tavern or checkout areas where there is suspicion of theft.
"Monitoring should primarily be to prevent or solve crimes, and protect lives and health," Tveten said. "Beyond that, there is a lot to do before it is allowed."
Businesses are obliged to notify the inspectorate about video surveillance. In addition to the regulations, high standards are set for signage, labeling and deletion.
"Recordings at the outset will be be deleted after seven days, but can be kept for up to 30 days if it may become necessary to surrender it to the police," Tveten said. "We may grant an exemption from this, but it takes a lot."
Svalbardposten sent an e-mail with questions about the matter to Trust Arktikugol on Monday.
"We unfortunately cannot give precedence to commenting because the general director is coming to Barentsburg tomorrow and we have a time squeeze," the company replied in an e-mail Wednesday shortly before Svalbardposten went to press. "Sorry, we cannot help you this time. We hope that we will have more time to answer questions next time."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini