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Big Brother is watching you

Given the ever-rising crime rates in Delhi, is all round 24X7 surveillance something that is on the books for the capital city?

“I have watched at least a dozen people accuse someone random for picking their pocket. But of course, there is no way to verify that, because most of these cameras that are set up are only meant for building surveillance,” says a traffic cop (name withheld) in Kailash Colony, a locality that used to be known as one of the best places to live in Delhi. He believes that a better surveillance system would help the cause greatly, so long as it is used for the right reasons.

In a country where data protection laws are perpetually dynamic and growing, and multiple states have already adopted various methods of city surveillance, Delhi is only just catching up. The former Minister of State Santosh Kumar Gangwar had revealed that from 2014-2017, 51 banks had been robbed in 2,632 separate incidents of robbery, theft, dacoity and burglary leaving the banks at a cumulative loss of 180 crores. Axis Bank lost the largest amount of money while HDFC was the luckiest in those terms. Delhi, the capital city, still remains the number one hub for crimes against women. As far as cases of snatchings are concerned, since 2015, they have risen from 916 cases to 1,459 cases as of 2017. And what’s more is that 80 per cent of those perpetrators hailed from Delhi.

Recently, the Delhi Rules for Regulation of CCTV Systems in NCT Delhi was made public, and it decreed that all the CCTV cameras planted by the Aam Aadmi Party would be under the control of the Delhi Police. Arvind Kejriwal, who had long been very vocal about his disappointment in the poor handling of the issue by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, is finally getting a part of his wish, three years later. On implementation, this technology is supposed to make Delhi the first state with a set of rules that govern the handling of CCTV data collected from public spaces.

The estimated cost of the CCTV project by PWD (Public Works Department) is Rs. 571.40 crores. Thus far, CCTV footage was collected by several different bodies, governmental and otherwise – but there was no Standard Operating Procedure for the same. The release of the aforementioned document deals with that problem.

Delhi Police PRO, Madhur Verma gives a lukewarm response about the initiative, saying that it’s still in the proposal stage and he cannot comment on whether it will ultimately be implemented or not. “If and when it is implemented, the smart features like number plate recognition, police alarm activation and facial recognition, will definitely be an advantage and will help to take the crime rates down,” he says. On being asked about the citizens’ privacy, he says that although the CCTV feed from all surveillance cameras will be monitored by the Delhi Police, they will follow certain guidelines so as to not breach the privacy of the people. “We are only focusing on the footage recorded in public places, like the markets, the busy roads, and so on.

Private properties already have their own equipment and methods to monitor it. So even though Delhi Police will receive that feed, they will not act on it unless absolutely required.”

As per the AAP’s plan, there are to be 2,000 cameras per Assembly constituency, each equipped with 4 megapixel infra-red day and night vision. The footage will be recorder by a Network Video Recorder (NVR), and will be stored for 30 days, to be provided to the police or court as and when the demand is made.

The residents of a building complex in Sainik Farms have split opibions. This particular building has CCTV cameras only in the parking lot. “It doesn’t make sense, because after a potential thief has climbed the steps to where the residents actually live, there’s no way of tracking that,” says Ankur on his way out to the gym. A group of boys living on the top floor, differ in opinion. While they agree that the positioning of the cameras is less than helpful, they are also thankful for the privacy it guarantees. “Three of us live together, so our friends come over to hang out a lot,” says one of them.

“Sometimes we come in late. And I know that if there was a CCTV camera recording my comings and goings my mom would definitely find a way to take advantage!” he laughs. He goes on to say that he understands the importance of it, but struggles with how it can be implemented without being exploited. The security guard however, seOrwellian in nature, the Lt. Governor was wary of this hurdle – the questions that would be raised with regard to the citizens’ privacy. And for this reason, specifically, the Delhi Police is assuming control of all CCTVs in public spaces in Delhi. Delhi is already behind in the game, having been beaten by Surat, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh, all of whom had previously begun using mass surveillance technology to curb crime.

“I got pick-pocketed in broad daylight,” says Maya, who found her wallet and phone missing one night after returning home from work. “I walk a little distance and then take an auto every day, so my things could have been lifted at any spot, and there was no way for me to know. So maybe there will be an upside to the constant surveillance on the streets.”

Namrata, a recently graduated college student, is vehemently supportive of this new development. “I don’t love the idea of being watched all the time anymore than the second person,” says she. “But I have been groped on the busy streets of Delhi multiple times. Sometimes you cannot turn around and confront them.” Namrata hopes that this will instil at least some fear in such people. “As girls, we have to face a culture where even now, no matter what the circumstance, our tragic experiences are considered to be our fault. This might be a good way to debunk that.”

Delhi has historically taken the lead in crime rates in India and to this date that remains unchanged. Delhi is followed by Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, while Lakshwadeep boasts the lowest crime rate. The plan to install CCTV cameras in public areas has been in the works for the past two months, but there seems to still be a dilly-dally in the implementation.

 

States that have already implemented surveillance technology:

1. Surat, first city to deploy facial recognition in surveillance software.
2. Hyderabad installed 360 degree cameras, that could store footage for 15 days.
3. Mumbai got 4,617 cameras rigged to 1,000 emergency response vehicles that coordinate with the control room. They are equipped with Automatic Number Plate Recognition as well as Facial Recognition from the criminal records that the police have.
4. Vishakhapatnam, Vijaywada and Jaipur have seen brief trials of surveillance technology during festivals and outside locations with extreme footfall.