Many European countries now employ public video surveillance as a primary tool to monitor population movements and to prevent terrorism.
Councils, law enforcement and security management professionals in the UK rely heavily on video surveillance as a tool to fight crime and prevent terrorism. According to some researchers, the camera surveillance systems in the UK discourage criminals and thus preventing crime.
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The UK is recognised as a leading user of CCTV and the public are used to seeing CCTV cameras on virtually every high street. Such systems continue to enjoy general public support but they do involve intrusion into the lives of ordinary people as they go about their day to day business and can raise wider privacy concerns.
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The potential value of public surveillance technology took on new meaning last April, 2013 when investigators identified the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing after sifting through video images captured by the city’s cameras.
The Boston bombers were apprehended quickly due to surveillance cameras. Yes! All agree! No dispute over how well the public cameras were on that day. Yet, many lingering questions need to be answered now, since we have time and opportunity to gather our wits and thoughts!
The related policies – who regulates and implements?
Who draws the line at what is public interest and just plain harassment when a camera is placed. What about the private camera placed on property with malicious intent? Who regulates the camera on private property? Yes surveillance cameras are important to deter crimes, however it is important to note who is at the other end of the camera? Who really is watching you? Who ultimately views what the camera lens observes? Who decides when a privately owned security surveillance camera is poorly or maliciously aimed (when the camera is deliberately pointed into the windows of a private residence)?
A few months back Delhi Metro CCTV footages were on YouTube and also at some questionable sites. Who owns responsibility for not misusing the data of public CCTV surveillance? In short – who decides and regulates?
Are privately owned, operated surveillance cameras to be treated the same way as public cameras? We also need to draw fine lines about ‘Who really is watching you’? ‘Who owns that camera anyway’? Big brother? The Corporates? Or harassing neighbour? Who draws the line between public interest and harassment? At the moment, nobody! The camera could legally do what a peeping tom could not do. They could peer inside of windows with the full protection of the law on their side. If a person was standing watching outside a window it could be a crime, yet same person could place a surveillance camera then remotely view a person within the privacy of their home. Most important, it is not against the penal code.
If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about
When you’re in a public space, you’re in the eye of the public. So what’s the difference in being watched by a closed circuit TV camera? Even if you were caught picking your nose the police aren’t going to arrest you for that and no surveillance officer is going put it on national television. Yes, a video surveillance camera in public places is good. Helps in crime-prevention and works as deterrence. Post crime investigation is easy and catching culprits is easy for law-enforcement officers.
Raging debate on the subject at one of the websites revealed the results as follows:
Good idea? 62% Say Yes 38% Say No
The arguments in favour
We should have surveillance cameras in public places because they ensure public safety. Rarely will anyone attempt to harm you when they know their actions are being recorded on camera. Cameras keep you and your personal property safe.
The police can identify criminals recorded with cameras. Through surveillance cameras, the police can both prevent crimes from happening and can quickly solve criminal cases with material evidence.
In addition, surveillance cameras protect against property theft, and vandalism. It is very difficult to get away with stealing something if there are cameras filming you. Therefore, the thief will often get caught. Surveillance cameras will catch the thief before, or during the process of committing the crime.
If no one is aware of the crime until after it has been committed, the surveillance footage is always a crucial piece of evidence during a police investigation. Surveillance cameras have, and will prevent many crimes.
Some people may say that we should not have surveillance cameras in public places. They claim that they invade privacy. That is false. Why be out in public if you want privacy? Just stay at home. Surveillance cameras are meant to keep you and other property safe, not to stalk you. Cameras are there not to invade a person’s privacy but to protect the public by deterring criminal activity and by providing material evidence when a crime has been caught on film.
Criminals are less likely to commit crimes in the area if they know they’re going to be being filmed the whole time. Things like shoplifting hardly seem worth it when pitted against the possibility of going to jail.
We should have surveillance cameras. Why not?
Having cameras in public places make people feel safe. If people know that there are cameras around them, they will most likely not do anything stupid! People feel safer in the knowledge that a potential mugger or attacker will be put-off by the presence of a camera.
Cameras, through video analytics, now have the ability to zoom in to reveal someone’s identity which can be beneficial to crime prevention when used in the correct way. The criminal can be apprehended quickly. Especially in abduction cases a video would be a great way of tracking down a person quickly and maybe preventing a death!
The arguments against
It is an infringement on your civil liberties. Why film innocent people doing nothing criminal in public places. Next, they’ll be putting them in public restrooms.
“Those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither” – Benjamin Franklin. A camera everywhere is not a deterrent as all that’s needed is a mask. It will allow governments to watch us, which may not matter now, but in the wrong hands, can be catastrophic. We don’t deserve to be watched while living our lives.
They don’t work. In New York a man got stabbed and was left to die in front of three surveillance cameras. It took the ambulances 2 hours to get to the injured man, and he died before getting to the hospital. The surveillance cameras did nothing to help the man.
I think this is an awful idea because if a window is open somewhere, a person could look through and watch them all the time so that is an invasion of privacy.
Police should be out on the streets trying to prevent crime. CCTV cameras are just a less effective alternative to having police walk the streets. CCTV cameras are just there to give the public a false feeling of safety and are a less effective replacement for policing.
The myth is that CCTV cameras prevent crime but the reality is that they do not.
Internet connected IP cameras are of particular concern. Such systems are more easily “hack-able” than a closed circuit system.
Governance and Governing Body
In the ensuing debates over privacy versus safety and security, advocates on both sides would be wise to consider the following guidelines –
- Responsibilities and Reasons: We need to consider privacy issues when creating surveillance policies. For one, cameras should avoid or mask inappropriate views of private areas, such as yards and windows of bedrooms or washrooms.
- Crime, Cost and Benefits: Public surveillance camera systems can be a cost-effective way to deter, document, and reduce crimes. For example the cost savings associated with crimes averted through camera systems in a city of USA saved over four dollars for every dollar spent on the technology, while another city yielded a 50 cent return on the dollar.
- Document and Publicize Policies. The law enforcing agencies must formulate on how surveillance cameras can be used and what are the disciplinary consequences for misuse. Likewise, officers should be thoroughly trained on these policies and held accountable for abiding by them.
- Forecasting and Post-Event Investigations: The usefulness of surveillance technology in preventing and solving crimes depends on the resources put into it. The most effective systems are those which are monitored by trained staff, have enough cameras to detect crimes in progress, and integrate the technology into all manner of law enforcement activities. Use of correct video-analytics can actually raise alarms about crimes or accidents before they take place. Correct management software will help in tagging, archiving and retrieving the authentic data for post-event investigation.
- Mix of Man and Machine: People should be out on the streets and work-places trying to prevent crime or losses. CCTV cameras are just a less effective alternative to having police walk the streets or security personnel on patrolling and physical surveillance. As with any technology, the use of cameras is by no means a substitute for good old-fashioned ground work. The camera footage provides additional leads in an investigation and aids in securing witness cooperation. The video footage serves as a complement to – but not a replacement for – eyewitness evidence in the courtroom.
Yes, public interest and safety along with surveillance cameras are here to stay. The need to draw definition of a public camera for public interest v/s a private surveillance camera placed for malafide intention must be addressed quickly. Public surveillance cameras and civil liberties can coexist if CCTV Systems are implemented and employed responsibly.
There are many metro / mega cities in India going for City Surveillance Projects, and, before implementing authorities make a shemozzle of ‘policy vacuum’, some regulatory mechanisms are needed to be put in place.