Delhi government shouldn’t congratulate itself on CCTV coverage

Synopsis:

Rather than deterring crime, the surveillance projects compromise women’s safety and the liberties of all citizens.

Introduction

Recently the Delhi government has reported that Delhi beat cities like Shanghai, New York and London with the most CCTV cameras per square mile across the world. The government has also mentioned that Delhi has 1,826 CCTVs per square mile, ranking it above 150 global cities.

The first and foremost reason provided by the Delhi government for the mass installation of CCTVs is to improve public safety.

Does CCTVs reduce crime and improve public safety?

There is no public data available on how CCTVs contribute to a reduction in violent crimes or make policing more efficient. Similarly, there are no feasibility reports or any evidence-based research to support such a massive installation of CCTVs.

A Comparitech study mentions that “a higher number of cameras just barely correlate with a lower crime index.” Another study from the Internet Democracy Project in Bengaluru reveals that CCTV footage had not helped in even a single case of sexual harassment.

What are the other challenges associated with the installation of CCTVs?

The longevity of the CCTVs: The CCTVs will require fixed one-time costs and will include replacement, repairs, maintenance, provision of internet and electricity. An audit by the CAG points out that, of the 3,870 CCTVs installed by the Delhi Police from 2008 to 2015, feeds are available only for 22-48 per cent.

No legal framework: There is no underlying legal framework for the use of CCTVs. In Delhi, all that exists is a one-page standard operating procedure (SOP), issued by the Public Works Department of Delhi. The SOP also does not contain any data protection principles or security practices.

The cost of the project: Delhi government spent almost ₹1200 crores for the installation. Apart from Delhi, other Indian cities such as Chennai, Mumbai are also pursuing the surveillance race. They’re also spending huge money on installing CCTVs. This money can be used for other better purposes.

Efficient in curbing individual rights: Internet Democracy Project study reveals that CCTV footages were used to identify “troublemakers” to prevent workers from organising and demanding labour protections. This is against the concept of individual autonomy as articulated by the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy judgment.

China uses digital surveillance for behavioural modification and assigning a social credit score for individuals. India has to be cautious about promoting CCTV programmes, that undermine fiscal prudence and civil liberties.

Source: This post is based on the article “Delhi government shouldn’t congratulate itself on CCTV coverage” published in the Indian Express on 4th September 2021.

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