There is nothing more enticing then knowing that the device that was put up with the sole purpose of protecting you and granting you safety is the one that is violating your sense of privacy. We put our trust into these cameras with this belief and assurance that it would be used as a means of prevention of crime and security surveillance, but how often does the device work in accordance of that? There have been multitudes of instanceswhen these surveillance cameras have been used to spy around individuals in their moments of privacy. Such instances implore us to ask ourselves, that this technology that have we have put so much belief in guarding us, is it actually being used to pry into our personal, intimate affairs? It makes us ponder that this lens of protection of the security cameras is too transparent then necessary.
The alarming rise in the rate of crimes committed especially in the public space has resulted in the installations of the Security Cameras or Surveillance cameras in every nook and corner. This is done to prevent and combat such unpredictable crimes that might be brought to a successful consequence. These surveillance cameras are installed not only for the purpose of public safety but is also put to use by private corporations and individuals with the intention to keep an eye on the respective behaviour of the individuals working for them. Its widespread use in monitoring the behaviour of the private individuals in a public space makes us question ourselves whether such security cameras under the garb of surveillance and protection are invading our privacy.
A security camera quintessentially means a device in the form of video cameras that pictorially records each and every movement that occurs under its circumscribing limits.  This crime deterrent device which is rampantly used all across, be it in retail shops, restaurants, hotels or every place of public domain, has brought forth many emergent cases where the device is used for the satiation of the voyeurs. Serish Nanis etthi in his article in The Hindu has aptly and eloquently described the prevalent situation, “As CCTV cameras multiply across Indian cities, there is also a sharp increase in voyeurism. The masses are constantly hooked to surveillance footage. A voraciously hungry social media and lax ethical standards have turned the surveillance experiment into a voyeur’s delight.”
In 2015 itself, the infamous Fab India case, wherein the then HRD Minister who happened to be at the retail shop at the moment and was alert enough to notice that the security camera that was placed in the changing room of the store. The store initially refused the charges and labelled the placement of the cameras such for security and surveillance. However, the 4 accused staffers were charged under Section 354, IPC with outraging the modesty of a woman, Section 354-C, IPC with Voyeurism , Section 509, IPC with intrusion of privacy and Section 66E of the Information Technology Act with capturing, publishing image of private area of any person without his/her consent. Such instances are an extremely intrusive and traumatising affair for the victim who is deprived of her privacy in the moments when she expects it the most.
The public surveillance is prone to fall in the hands of those who intend to pry in other’s lives, for instance when the Detroit Free Press in its investigations found that the available database was used by the Michigan Law enforcement to stalk women, or track estranged espouses.
Right to privacy has been recognised and established as a fundamental right in many countries across the globe. In India itself right to privacy has been made part of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution which means the highest law of the land protects this inherent right of every individual. It has been declared so in the 2018 judgement of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India  where the Supreme Court said, “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.”Although it seems incomprehensible that the state expects its citizens to enjoy their right to life and liberty when their daily lives are constantly being monitored and shackling them in the chains of video surveillance.
The Government of India encourages the use of surveillance tools for the benefit of the society and has protected it by legal frameworks. However, in a democracy; especially one such diverse as that of India, surveillance in any form should be carried out under a judicial warrant, and every individual should be given necessary safeguards. The Information Technology Act, 2000 is the legislation that deals with the scenarios of misuse of security cameras. The Section 66E of the act makes an offender liable for 3 years imprisonment and a fine of Rupees 2 lakh if he uses electronic surveillance in the form of camera to capture images of the private parts of a person, male or female, or if he transmits such image without the concerned person’s consent. Any such offender who breaches the privacy of an individual by capturing obscene information from the camera is punished under the statutory provision of Section 67 of the Act and if the information so captured is sexually explicit then the perpetrator would be held under Section 67A. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013 also added Section 354C in the Indian Penal Code which renders Voyeurism punishable with a term not less than one year which may extend till 3years on first conviction and with imprisonment of a term of not less than 3 years and extending to 7 years. Voyeurism as a offence in the section has been defined as, “Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image.”
The USA now has tried to recognise the right to privacy by the means of other statutory provisions to make up for its absence from the Constitution. The records that are held by the public authorities are protected by the Data Privacy Act, but no such legal protection has been granted for the recordings done by the private sector. The laws regarding the security cameras or to say for the video surveillance varies from state to state in the continent that is to say it is not uniform in any manner. The President had the power to initiate an electronic surveillance against any foreign person or power. He can grant the permission to carry this surveillance through the Attorney General without any requirement for court orders. The Attorney General could gather all the intel for a period of one year and had to report to the House of Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Select Committee. The surveillance is done in the USA on court orders as well. The Chief Justice has the authority to appoint seven judges from seven different circuit courts and the constituted panel of judges has to entertain any such application made for the request of surveillance, exception being the scenario when the application had previously been denied. The application that is filed for the request of electronic surveillance is done so by the Federal Officer.
If we see whether the United Kingdom has ensured that the use of security cameras are not breaching the privacy of its citizens, then firstly they have given no constitutional right of privacy to its citizens. The surveillance can be done by police, local authorities or private sector but it is obligatory to inform public about video surveillance through signs. The security cameras recording are though regulated by a code of practices, however they are not legal binding. The surveillance and the investigations carried out by the governmental bodies is done by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000. This regulation though not legally binding gives a structured guideline to the public authorities like that of police on what course of action they had to take in order to obtain a private information. The regulations also provide the grounds under which the surveillance can be carried out. These grounds being for such form of investigation as that terrorism, crime, emergency service and public safety. In Europe in general there is no direct legislation that provides the guidelines because the members of the European Union members use the guidelines of the UKs Regulation of Investigatory Powers. A general draft of European General Data Protection Regulation has been put forward in the Council of Europe after the increasing developments in the Information Technology across the world. This directive also regulates the processing of the personal data across the European Union but no specific law regarding surveillance has been made yet.
The widespread use of security cameras has come in the way of our exercise of right to privacy. The device is entrusted with the reigns of duty of protection of the individuals via surveillance but is often misused by the likes of cyber stalkers, voyeurs, etc. It has transcended the realms of security and criminal deterrence. A legal use of the security camera has indeed proved to be beneficial for maintenance of security, monitoring of scenarios and efficient gathering of evidence. However, its benefits are not at all an excuse to invade the personal space of any person. Many people expect a certain extent of an anonymity in their lives for instance when they are going to a psychiatric or an infertility clinic. A security camera is the last thing that they want to be invaded with, that would keep a pictorial record of their one activity where they wish to be anonymous. There are certain circumstances in our day to day lives, where we expect that people will recognise and respect our privacy, however this right is denied to them in certain cases like that of placement of a security camera in changing room. The officials who have been legally entrusted to monitor such videos, be it in a public domain or a private one have also been found misusing the information and we should certainly keep in mind that the extent and the nature of the record collected by the cameras are a sensitive one, and any amount of breach in it would lead to the most dangerous case of violation of privacy at a large scale. The discriminatory use of security cameras for monitoring is also an issue that has come up in certain parts of the globe. In UK it has been found that the black community are most likely to be targeted by surveillance compared to the white community and men are more likely to be assessed via the security cameras than the women. This discrimination is based on no specific reason but that of being a mere categorical difference.
Privacy is an inherent right ensured to every person. The dominion of privacy interlinks with the field of security which is inclusive of the right to choice and protection of intimate, individualistic information. It is a legal right that grants autonomy to all individuals without any discrimination which makes it necessary for sustenance of a harmonious democracy. The boundary between what we reveal and what we do not and control over that boundary, are among the most important attributes of civilization. One of the most incoherent argument that is raised over voicing the concern over privacy is “If you have got nothing to hide, you have got nothing to worry about” I think this notion should come clear that privacy issues do not arise only because someone has to hide certain aspect of his life. It stems out from the fact that it is not acceptable to the person to put all aspect of his life on display.
The security cameras have undoubtedly emerged as one of the most cost effective forms of video surveillance that is being used to combat the threat to public peace and security. It is installed at more and more in the places of public importance like ATMs, malls, airports. However, we cannot ignore its impact on the privacy of the individuals it is monitoring. Security cameras, in my most earnest opinion, certainly have some indispensable roles in our lives but their benefits become marred with irregularities and violations if they are put to use without the necessary safeguards.The improvements made upon the technology of security cameras that allows to keep a track of the target in view or use the cameras to actually follow the target in the real time or in video data which makes cyber stalking a very easy offence to commit by any person irrespective of him being authorised or unauthorised if he has an access to the videos.
There are indeed two sides to this coin. One that use of security cameras violates our right to privacy and the other that security cameras have a beneficial use in our lives. However saying that security cameras should not be used or should be completely banned is preposterous and a denial of the technological blessing we have been granted. We just have to find a middle ground, and make necessary changes that are needed for proper enforcement that will make the use of the security cameras safe from privacy invasions. Certain innovations like that of Digital Masking and Encryption of the video data are trying to solve this conundrum by making sure that the non-targeted people’s faces, license plate or any other identifying object is automatically hid up or that the use of the video footage is only to the authorised person with the encryption key. It is however a pity that these technologies are not put to widespread use, because without their application the marginal benefit we derive from the use of the security cameras is relatively less than the harm it does- both physically and mentally.The security cameras when used with the privacy protection and under strict, controlled and authorised guidance can actually prove to be a benefactor to the society. It will ensure that the people of the society get the desired level of security with the expectation of privacy they have in their lives. We most certainly cannot use a device that is in conflict with the most natural right of a person- Privacy; but if we find a balance between both the aspects, then everyone all around the globe will be granted the canopy of protection of video surveillance under the circumscribing limits of privacy. (1994). Collins English dictionary. Glasgow, HarperCollins Publishers
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About the Author
Ilina Peehu, 2 nd year student of the 5 year BBA/ LLB Programme studying in Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat.