Beware Of Campaigners Before Installing CCTV Camera In Public Places

In course of the years, people have opposed surveillance, seeing it as an invasion of privacy or a tool to suppress privacy issues. Dyed-in-the-wool campaigners and serious citizens have opposed bugging of phones, identity cards, security cameras, database linking and sundry other types of surveillance. While most of them have lobbied and campaigned against abuses and for legal or procedural restrictions, others have contrived ways of getting around surveillance, though not with much relief.

Had George Orwell been alive today, he would have surely said “I think we’re fighting a losing game, so far as keeping our privacy is concerned”. However, the fact remains that “Big Brother is watching you” wherever you are in Orwell’s dystopian world. The novel’s anti-hero, Winston Smith, has to huddle in the alcove of his living room to avoid the gaze of the “telescreen” which monitors him and every other citizen day and night. Constant surveillance was the keystone of Big Brother’s power.

Running parallel with resistance, we find a good many tough critiques of surveillance that have exposed its damaging impacts, both in terms of personal harm as well as social impairments (e.g. Gandy 1993; Dandeker 1990, Garfinkel 2000, Holtzman 2006; Lyon 1994; Marx 1988, Murray 1993 and many more).

However, such collaborative efforts have now bore fruit. Many countries have ruefully realized the ill effects of nonstop surveillance of innocent citizens, while some are going to ban workplace surveillance. For instance Germany is going to ban most workplace surveillance by way of introducing legislation against unlawful surveillance of lawful workmen (and women).

“Secret surveillance of employees can no longer be permitted in Germany,” said Michael Frieser, an expert on the subject with the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Merkel’s coalition has promised more legal certainty over video surveillance for both employers and employees by clearing up existing gray areas. The German parliament, the Bundestag, is scheduled to vote on the legislation by the end of January. Under the legislation, video surveillance must be publicized.

Companies such as the supermarket chain Lidl and the telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom have sparked incongruity by secretly filming their employees.

While the draft legislation aims to make these incongruities a thing of the past, surveillance of any kind in private areas – such as changing rooms, sleeping areas and restrooms – would be totally banned by the new law.

Why publicized surveillance would be held to strict standards too. Under the legislation, such surveillance could not be used to check the behavior or performance of employees, according to Gisela Piltz of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). 

Controlling CCTV use in the United Kingdom

The DPA (Data Protection Act 1998) in UK is applicable to  all operators of CCTV where the use of the system revolves round the processing of  personal data which will include footage from CCTV cameras of individuals  (such as taking a walk on the side street or moving round their place of work) or  information that relates to them from which they can be identified (such as an  ANPR image of a driver’s car license plate number entering a car park).

Since the purpose of most CCTV is to gather and record  isues in regard to what people are doing, the DPA will apply, save and except where it is only  being used in a home for domestic or household purposes or if the recording is  a personal one captured by their digital camera or smart phone. 

Bottom line

Though legislators in India has so far neglected the importance of privacy issue for its vote casting millions, its time for the world’s largest democracy to initiate legal protection for them. However, in view of the smoldering antagonism against installation of CCTV in and around cities such as Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Sambalpur, etc, it may be prudent to test public opinion first.