SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS AND INVASION TO PRIVACY

With the rapid advancements in technology, modern surveillance cameras are increasingly being used to continuously monitor public and private spaces throughout the world. The video surveillance platforms, public or private, serve the purpose of enhancing security and protecting people from anti-social and criminal elements.

The rise in crime and terrorism has given the absolute license to the governments and law enforcement authorities to install as many closed- circuit television (CCTV) cameras as they want. These cameras have been used by the government in various circumstances ranging from investigation of crimes, prevention of terrorism, traffic control, protection of vulnerable public areas, etc.[1] The use of cameras is also common among the general public as the people are nowadays installing cameras in their homes so as to prevent commission of theft, protect their personal assets and increase the safety of family. Further, schools, colleges and other educational institutions also use cameras to maintain peace and discipline in the campuses.

The increased availability and decreased cost have made it possible to install these surveillance systems in almost all the places including private homes, small businesses and even religious or charitable centres. According to a recent research by Precisesecurity.com in 2019, China is recognised as a surveillance state and a leading user of CCTV with over 200 million cameras installed in the country, followed by the United States with 50 million cameras installed.[2] However, as regards the per capita usage, the US has 15.28 surveillance cameras per 100 citizens, which is slightly higher than China’s density of 14.36.[3] Thus, the surveillance cameras are now becoming more pervasive with 24- hour monitoring making it virtually impossible to walk through the high streets without being captured on camera numerous times throughout the day.

However, the features of camera technology have been developed over the period of time. The advanced and innovative features of CCTV cameras include miniaturization which led to the creation of the world’s thinnest lens and provides opportunities to the spies to monitor the subject in a hidden way.[4] Further, the adoption of facial recognition technology along with high definition zoom quality makes it possible for public and private entities to instantly check someone’s identity even from large distances and in poor lights. One of the amazing aspects of facial recognition technology is facial analysis with the view to figure out a person’s mood, emotions, behaviour and age.

This digital approach to emotion measurement plays an important role in decision making as it provides an immediate and unobtrusive reading of real-time expressions of anger, fear, sadness, happiness and anxiety.[5] These innovative cameras also have extensive storage and recording capacity which enables them to construct and maintain a database storing everyone’s photo which once recorded remains there for an indefinite period.

Another stunning advancement in camera technology is the creation of the drone camera which is the unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with the sophisticated imaging technology that provides the ability to obtain detailed photographs of even small objects.[6] It has been designed to be used without human pilots using artificial intelligence in order to carry out spying missions for the government and law enforcement authorities.

Drones may also carry other advanced surveillance technologies like zooming cameras, heat sensors, GPS navigation, etc. which enable them to watch any individual from the sky.[7]

However, the surveillance cameras raise some serious concerns about privacy as the people’s most private moments are constantly monitored and captured by hidden cameras without their knowledge or consent. Furthermore, the cameras are not selective when it comes to what they keep track of and the person operating the camera can access everything that occurs before it. The problem becomes more aggravated if the monitoring of such videos is being done in an unregulated way as the camera control operator may record images or videos for his own private purposes or to satisfy his erotic desires.

The cyber law experts have observed that the cases relating to privacy invasion due to installation of CCTV cameras are emerging whether cameras are installed in the public arena or private arena. For instance, the recordings of the CCTV cameras installed in Delhi Metro trains which captured couple’s intimate moments was uploaded on pornographic sites, thus, resulting in unregulated use of camera recordings.[8] The cameras installed in bedrooms, restrooms and trial rooms are a violation of an individual's privacy. The CCTV recordings are being used as an intrusion to the privacy of another person for malicious purposes or as a nuisance. Therefore, the security cameras can be regarded as the digital eyes that are always watching over us and have now become more invasive with new innovative features.

Though video surveillance is being used to enhance security and to protect the society from anti-social activities, there has been a news report which reveals how the public as well as private actors are collecting personal data without involving the subjects as to how their information should be collected and processed. The law and technology should balance the national security concerns with individual’s right to privacy. Moreover, as regards the violation of privacy by drone cameras, the report by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended the restricted use of drones only when there is a ground to believe that they will collect evidence on a specific crime. Also the warrant will be required if a drone will intrude on reasonable expectations of privacy.[9]

The Supreme Court in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India[10] while holding ‘right to privacy’ as a fundamental right enshrined in Part III of the Constitution observed that the right to privacy is as sacrosanct as human existence and is inviolable to human dignity and autonomy. Though it is not an absolute right, any restriction must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny, that is, it has to follow the procedure established by law. Therefore, any surveillance done on an individual by the state or any outside agency is an infringement of that person’s right to privacy. This judgment augmented the necessity to protect the privacy of an individual, thereby, strengthening the concept of personal autonomy.


-- [1] PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL, https://privacyinternational.org/learn/visual-surveillance-technology, (last visited 12 July2022). [2]PRECISE SECURITY, https://www.precisesecurity.com/articles/Top-10-Countries-by-Number-of-CCTV-Cameras (last visited 12 July2022). [3] Ibid. [4] Australian National University, World's thinnest lens to revolutionize cameras, ScienceDaily. (11 March, 2016), www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160311105237.html. [5]Daphna Motro et al, Measuring Emotions in Digital Age, MIT Sloan Management Review, (20 November, 2019), https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/measuring-emotions-in-the-digital-age/. [6] Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Drones, Electronic Privacy Information Centre, (12 July,2022, 09:20 p.m.), https://epic.org/privacy/drones/. [7] Ibid. [8] Debashis Sarkar, CCTV footage of couple at Delhi Metro station lands on porn website, The Times of India, (29 July, 2019, 05:14 p.m.), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/gadgets-news/cctv-footage-of-couple-at-delhi-metro-station-lands-on-porn-website/articleshow/70433737.cms. [9] Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump, Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government use of Drone Aircraft (2011), https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/protectingprivacyfromaerialsurveillance.pdf. [10] Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1.



This article is written by Anishika Garg of Panjab University.

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