So I find myself back in the City Council and have been allocated to the Safety and Security Portfolio Committee, instead of Finance (‘cos the DA wont risk their majority in any committee – like the ANC). Today was my first meeting.
One of the agenda items was approving a draft policy on the regulation of CCTV cameras in CT- interesting and troubling all at once. Some of my notes and observations include:
- there are no laws in SA protecting personal privacy – a massive worry, and something to be addressed soon by our MP’s. Private sector and state CCTV camera operators are not expected to sign and abide by any guarantees to personal privacy.
- Its clear to me that the publics demands for increased safety are trumping the protection of individuals rights to privacy, primarily because (in my view) individuals aren’t asserting their own rights or not aware their own rights are being trampled in this way.
- the huge increase in the installation of unregulated and unpoliced private sector and state CCTV cameras in Cape Town has prompted this policy – it should be welcomed in principle, though I believe it needs further refinement. Its sad to see how few people actually commented on this draft policy – the public should know that not commenting sends the wrong message to legislators, including the City.
- there are no mechanisms to prevent the camera operators (those who monitor live footage) from abusing them for non-policing purposes – so I had that added to the policy.
- there is no monitoring done on private sector camera operators to ensure no abuse takes place, and there are no reporting mechanisms either – I was told that’s not a City competency, it’s a legal gap.
- there are more private sector operated cameras in CT than state.
- City officials flimsily explained that it costs too much to store this surveillance footage so there’s no sense including a maximum time period that surveillance footage can be stored before being deleted. Yet they then confirmed the City already has 750 TERAbytes of surveillance footage of Capetonians in public spaces, from its own cameras alone! That’s 750,000 gigabytes of footage of us going about our daily lives, already being stored – for what, why, by who and who has access?
- there are no limits of how long surveillance footage of public spaces can be stored – see the recent EU court ruling that rightly upset Google, et al, but that correctly ruled that individuals have the ‘right to be forgotten’. I believe this should extend to surveillance footage. This concept is not contemplated in the draft policy.
- Only SAPS are entitled to access (and to copies of) surveillance footage. If you want access to footage from a state camera, you must go through the laborious, confusing, time wasting and rights-limiting ‘Access to information’ application process, which does NOT guarantee approval of the application anyway. If from a private camera, your lawyer must get involved – at your cost.
- Cameras are installed on poles above a minimum height (to prevent vandalism) but there’s no maximum height. In fact, higher is better I was informed, because it broadens the field of view. But that’s the problem. In urban, mixed-use environments like Sea Point, where people live in apartments above shops on the Main road, those camera’s are high enough for camera operators to monitor (and record) whats going on in your lounge, what you’re cooking, etc. I insisted this be changed, so the City will now require that the field of view of CCTV camera lenses, particularly of the pan/tilt/zoom (ptz) variety, be blocked to protect privacy interests, but only when a member of the public asks for this to be done.
My advice – first decide if you want the camera to be able to see into your private dwelling or not. The choice is ‘security’ versus privacy. There is risk either way. Take a worst case scenario choice: either the camera no longer picks up burglars accessing your private dwelling to steal, kill or destroy or vids of you in your home mysteriously appear on YouTube. If you favour privacy, then assess the potential field of view of the cameras around your home, find out who operates the camera, ask for access to their control room to see the field of view for yourself, then ask them to respect your privacy by blocking views of your home. Let me or your lawyer know if you don’t get that right.
The draft policy now proceeds to council for adoption at its next meeting (25 June). This is the draft policy: SAFS22050614 – DRAFT POLICY ON THE REGULATION OF EXTERNAL AND PRIVATELY OWNED CCTV CAMERAS ON CITY PROPERTY
Let me know your views/concerns/comments, we’ll discuss them with the view of taking them up at the council meeting.
PS: This post is labelled (1) because I will be saying more on the protection of private information and privacy matters generally