Do CCTV cameras protect us or invade our privacy?

Context: India’s CCTV camera coverage has grown rapidly over the years. Today, Delhi and Chennai have more cameras per square mile than cities in China. States argue that CCTV cameras reduce crime, and the public finds the presence of these cameras reassuring. However, surveillance is a big concern. Recently, in Telangana, the wrong man was apprehended when authorities purportedly recognised him from security camera footage as a potential culprit in a chain-snatching event. He died days after being released.

Arguments in Favour of the installation of CCTV cameras

  • Cameras can help the police identify suspects
  • It can help in gathering evidences and clues of crime
  • They may help in bringing convenience for everyday life.
  • Cameras can help in reducing crime against women

Arguments against CCTV cameras

  • There are multiple studies in the U.K. that show that there is no connection between CCTV cameras and the reduction of crime.
  • Many times, cameras don’t even function, a CAG audit of 2018-19 stated that only 55-68% of cameras were working in Delhi
  • The majority of crimes against women take place at home. CCTV cameras are not helpful in those situations.
  • It is impossible to install CCTV in all places.
  • Over-reliance on these systems, which leads to false negatives (the police have not been able to identify the criminal and he goes free) and false positives (an innocent person is identified as the suspect).
  • Police may use the footage for otherwise
  • There is no oversight of the actions of the police, for instance, the New York and London police departments have oversight committees.
  •  According to the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, fingerprints, handprints or any evidence can be kept for 75 years. Why 75 years? There is no explanation. So, even after someone dies, evidence such as your fingerprints could be on record.
  • There are barriers to how freely people can protest and one of them is police intimidation. For example, if the police record me while I am protesting, this can affect not just me, but have a chilling effect on others. They may be scared to be identified by the police. The right to protest, to freedom of speech and to privacy all get violated.
  • There is no law that regulates how the data is collected, processed, stored, when it should be deleted, or with whom it can be shared.
  • There is no specific law with regard to facial recognition, or a standard operating procedure on how the police should use CCTVs or facial recognition technology
  • It is easy to tamper with video footage these days.

Way forward

  • Only the data to be used for a lawful purpose should be collected and stored. It is stored only for the time until which the purpose is carried out. After that, it should be deleted.
  • There should be comprehensive laws regulating the use of data recorded in CCTV cameras.
  • There should be a compulsory provision of an oversight committee to look into the actions of police.

Mains practice question

Critically evaluate the effectiveness of CCTV cameras in ensuring women’s safety and reducing crimes in society. (250 words, 15 marks)

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