The controversy regarding CCTV cameras has reopened confrontation between the Centre and the Kejriwal Government. This was after the Lt Governor formed a committee to establish a “proper framework” for CCTV regulation and to address issues like privacy and data security. After a series of bitter exchanges, it culminated in a four-hour long dharna led by CM Kejriwal and his cabinet outside the L-G’s residence.
This extremely politicised issue was a cornerstone of the AAP electoral manifesto as a panacea for all crimes, especially against women and children. It planned to install more than 15 lakh CCTVs with an estimated budget of Rs 570 crore. The Delhi government’s Expenditure Finance Committee has also approved the installation of around 1.46 lakh CCTV cameras in state-run schools, which has met with polarised reactions.
The large-scale installation of CCTVs has been critiqued by several experts as a misleading idea which is reflective of a reductionist approach towards crime. CCTVs have been widely accepted as being instrumental only in the investigation or identification of perpetrators of crime, having very little role in prevention of crime. The host of issues relating to the quality and functionality of the cameras, lack of adequate manpower, poor power supply and huge maintenance costs are big concerns regarding the efficacy of CCTV cameras. This reflects the frequent practice of heralding political promises without adequate concerns on its institutional framework and functioning.
Reports indicate that a significant proportion of crimes take place in the private sphere which raises questions over the perception of CCTV cameras as a universal panacea.
CCTV cameras have also been vulnerable to institutionalized misuse through violations of individual privacy, as was also noted by the Delhi High Court in 2015. This is particularly heightened in the absence of appropriate legal frameworks and Standard of Procedures. We see that despite several reports of misuse of CCTV footage, there has not been a single conviction on this charge. This also showcases the scant concern of individual privacy among the political status quo while attempts to establish accountability of public representatives through the installation of similar cameras in police stations, courts and other public institutions continues to be resisted. Fears of data security also stand unaddressed, leaving invasive CCTV footage often at the mercy of discretion and the continued misuse by private parties – as seen in the unlawful sharing of Aadhaar data by private players. The Congress party also heralded these concerns citing the Chinese manufacturers of CCTV cameras as “a threat to the national security”.
These concerns have however, not stopped the widespread use of the promise of CCTV cameras as a frequent political gimmick across all states which has not been accompanied by the creation of adequate security, operating and legal frameworks. While the AAP has dismissed the constitution of the committee by L-G Baijal as efforts to disrupt their working, the need for legal and operating norms has never been greater and is one which must permeate throughout the nation beyond Delhi.
The writer is a student of Delhi University. Views expressed are personal.