In this digital world, a life without cameras is unthinkable. Everywhere we go, we could see cameras. For example, at public places, at malls, at theatres, at parking areas, at apartments, on our smartphones etc. The camera plays an important role in an individual’s life and in society. To ensure law and order in society, both government and private bodies use cameras. The presence of cameras have both advantages and disadvantages, it is up to how it is being used. This article deals with the question of whether cameras in public places violate human rights or not and provisions related to it.
What is Surveillance
Surveillance is the monitoring of behaviour, activities or information for the purpose of information gathering, influencing, managing or directing. This surveillance is installed at various public places to monitor suspicious activities and to protect society from terrorists and criminals. It is believed that surveillance would reduce crime by three means, 1. By deterrence, 2. By observation and, 3. By reconstruction.
In the present world, it is impossible to be in a place where cameras are not used to capture events, no matter the type. In developed countries, the presence of surveillance is a common thing. Maintaining law and order in the country is the topmost priority of a government. For which, many states have started or planning to install surveillance cameras in public places. But, in India, there is no dedicated law or guidelines to govern video surveillance in India. As per statistics, in India, more than 4.27 lakh cameras were available with the police across the country, as on January 1, 2019.
Are CCTV cameras an invasion of Privacy:
Privacy is something that every individual in this world wants. It is a fundamental right recognised in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and in many other regional and international treaties. Everyone dreams to have privacy, but in this modern society, it will always be a dream for many. In homes, apartments or at private places one is free from surveillance but at public places, either the police officials or the local governments always observe the movement of the public. The reason behind setting up of surveillance cameras is to protect the general public, companies, and business and aid authorities.
According to debate.org, a discussion was conducted on surveillance, where 42% of individuals have said yes and 58% said no in the security cameras and privacy discussion. Public surveillance helps in investigation and safety measures. In India, there exist no laws/provisions that prohibit setting up cameras in public places. Nowadays, it is common to notice cameras in public places. And more than half of the reviewed citizens think that cameras would not be an invasion of privacy if they are not in private places.
Advantages of Public Video Surveillance:
Some of the advantages of public video surveillance are,
Improves public safety
The presence of cameras in public places will definitely enhance public safety. The cameras are used to monitor the movement of people at restaurants, malls, theatres, shopping, traffic signals and other public places. By this, the safety of citizens is ensured. In addition to this, attempting to commit an offence is also prevented.
It reduces crime rates and attempts to an offence
Many statistics and reports have shown that camera surveillance reduces the crime rate. A study revealed that surveillance cameras create fear of punishment by which the number of criminal activities and attempt to commit offences is reduced.
In this developing world, facial recognition software has been improved a lot by which the identity or images of offenders can easily be collected by public authorities. Without surveillance in public places, it is really difficult and time taking task for officials to gain a quality description of the one who committed a crime.
It acts as evidence and gathers clues
The recordings/ footage that captures the crime that is committed can be used as evidence in a court of law against the accused. If there was no camera to record the crime, then there exists no proof/ records to track the accused nor convict the accused.
Disadvantages of CCTV Cameras in Public
Some of the disadvantages of cameras in public are,
The cameras installed at public places which record or monitors public movement may be abused. And it is one of the most targeted surveillances by hackers where one can get information at large. Lack of control or cybersecurity technologies are the biggest problems in India. until now, there exists no good check – and – balance system in order to prevent abuses from occurring.
Effectiveness of public security is doubted
The main aim of setting surveillance cameras in public places is to protect citizens from crimes, threats and other forms of offences. In the current scenario, the Government of India is trying to increase surveillance cameras in places like Jammu & Kashmir to secure people from terrorist attacks. But there arises the question of whether offenders would be deterred due to the presence of cameras.
It is expensive
One of the problems with surveillance cameras is it costs big money. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, officials in Michigan have been proposing to put up public video surveillance for years but ended up concluding that the limited results could not justify high maintenance and personnel costs.
Landmark Cases on CCTV Cameras in Public and Human Right
In P.S. Deepthi V. of Tamil Nadu, the madras high court held that installation of cameras on public places for the protection of women does not invade their privacy nor affect the standard of living. It also held that the government has acted within its legislative competence which is legally valid.
In Muraleedharan V. State of Kerala, the question on the legality of cameras in classrooms was raised, for which the court held that, even though safety, security and privacy are required to be balanced, that balance of interests can only be done through appropriate legislation.
In Farhad Ginwalla and ors V. Zenobia R. Poonawala, 2018, the Bombay high court held that installation of CCTV outside one’s apartment without permission is illegal.
As mentioned earlier, there is no dedicated law or provision to control or regulate surveillance activities. The legal concerns related to the CCTV and its misuse are mostly seen through the lens of right to privacy.
The right to privacy is governed by K.S. Puttaswamy V. Union of India judgement and partially by the Information Technology Act,2000. “The Data protection legislature is also in the pipeline but that does not deal with issues arising out of video surveillance either, with the suggestion of exemption for residential CCTV cameras from the purview of a data protection law”.
Section 66(E) of Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with punishment for violation of privacy. section 66(E) of Information Technology Act states – “Whoever captures, publishes or transmits images of a person intentionally without his/her consent, it is a violation of privacy and shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine”.
In India, it is legal for the government to monitor public moments and activities in public places. Section-43 and Section 66 of Information Technology Act cover the civil and criminal offences of data theft and hacking respectively.
CCTV Cameras and Human Right:
Surveillance is a threat to human rights when it is misused. One of the most difficult questions society faces is how best to reconcile the public’s demand for safety and security with the need to respect and protect individual rights. Even though the use of cameras in public places may reduce crime and disorder, they can also constitute a serious threat in an individual’s right.
In particular, cameras in public places have the potential to discourage people’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of association in public places. These rights are essential to the idea of democratic self-governance which must be protected to ensure society’s development. Right to criticise, sharing opinion and public gathering may be affected due to the presence of CCTV surveillance and may lead to a reduction in political freedom and democratic participation. In Peck V. United Kingdom, it was considered that the publication or general disclosure like broadcasting any data obtained by CCTV
cameras, constituted an intrusion into privacy, even if the behaviour to which public attention was drawn was performed in public.
Misuse of surveillance cameras is a big threat to public safety and an individual’s right. Here are some of the problems that were recorded due to misuse of surveillance cameras, they are,
- Infringement of an individual’s right to privacy
- An imposing threat to the exercise of political freedom
- Lack of trust
- Fabrication of fake evidence and etc…
To ensure the people’s right and privacy, Article- 8 was introduced in the Human rights Act, which states that “Right to respect for private and family life”. This provision has the biggest impact on surveillance cameras. A study revealed that the presence of cameras in public places have adjusted/changed the behaviour of an individual in accordance with social norms. So, this clearly shows that the presence of cameras has an effect on an individual’s activities to act as law-abiding citizens.
In order to protect both society and individual’s rights, transparency is the only solution. The government should ensure that they provide a convincing and lawful justification for the use of cameras in public places and measures to reduce the negative effects of surveillance on individual privacy. But, still, the question of whether cameras in public places violate Human rights is still a debatable one, as it contains both advantages and disadvantages with it. If the surveillance is done as per law and not arbitrary, there arises no violation of human rights, but if surveillance is misused, then Human rights are violated.
Right to privacy is a fundamental right. For a person to live with dignity and respect, privacy is an essential one. It is to be noted that Right to life is a human right. so, infringe on privacy is an infringement of Human rights. Of all human rights in the international category, privacy is perhaps the most difficult to define and circumscribe.
The aim of the installation of surveillance cameras is to maintain law and order. But misuse of them either by the government or by the private individual cannot be stopped. Individual’s rights and society’s security are both important for a state. If either one is infringed, the other one gets affected. Misuse of surveillance is an infringement of Human rights.
 Cons of security cameras in public, para 1, http://m.reolink.com/pros-cons-of-surveillance-cameras-in-public-places/
 U.S. Department of Homeland Security
 Peck V United Kingdom, Judgement of 28 January 2003.
 James Michael, privacy and Human rights, UNESCO 1994
Student, Central Law College
Karthikeyan is a 3rd-year law student of The Central Law College. His areas of interest are IPR, contract law and constitutional law. He is an enthusiastic knowledge seeker and a hard worker. For any clarifications, suggestion and feedback you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org