Cape Town - Should security be allowed to trump privacy? This is one of the issues being raised as the City of Cape Town finalises its policy that will call for all CCTV cameras – including those that are privately owned by neighbourhood watches or community-based organisations – installed on land or buildings owned by the City of Cape Town, to be registered with the municipality by November 30.
The registration will also apply to cameras on private property, that monitor public spaces or form part of a broader CCTV network.
The intention of the city’s draft policy, which has been referred by the safety and security portfolio committee to the mayoral committee for recommendation to the council, is to regulate CCTV systems so that they “deter crime and promote a safer city”.
But Grant Haskin, of the ACDP, said the policy needed to also look at ways of monitoring and regulating the CCTV footage collected.
“There are no mechanisms to prevent the camera operators (those who monitor live footage) from abusing them for non-policing purposes.” Haskin said he had asked the safety and security portfolio committee to make provision for this in the policy.
There were also no reporting or monitoring mechanisms for private sector camera operators, he said.
“There are more private sector-operated cameras in Cape Town than state-owned.”
But Craig Donald, a human factors specialist in security and CCTV, said their policy had a good balance between privacy and security.
“There is obviously an emphasis on responsible CCTV and knowing what is happening in public space installations, rather than having a random proliferation of cameras by a whole range of different bodies without any control. The draft policy seems to incorporate both protection of the public, responsible and safe usage by other parties of public areas, and potential gathering of information for crime and investigation purposes.”
But he said it would be an ambitious project to get everything registered, especially if the cameras were owned by private companies looking at public areas.
“It is difficult to implement fully in practice, but in principle it’s not a bad thing,” said Donald.
The city said it would subsidise the monthly electricity usage if there was some benefit in connecting a private and external CCTV camera to the metro police.
It would also consider subsidising the installation fees of CCTV cameras for special rating areas or community based organisations on city owned structures.
“The subsidisation of electricity usage for cameras that can contribute to city objectives is also a way of spreading the surveillance footprint at a low cost, but there are still provisions for responsible usage,” said Donald.
All applicants wanting to install CCTV equipment will have to provide written motivation to the vetting committee, via the head of the metro police CCTV section. Existing city owned CCTV cameras will also have to be registered by the November deadline.
Unregistered CCTV equipment after that date will be confiscated and the owners will be responsible for the city’s cost of de-installation, removal and storage.
The policy calls for each camera to record and keep footage for up to 20 days. All CCTV footage is to be treated as confidential and should only be released to the SAPS or the metro police.
Haskin said he was disappointed that only 12 comments were received from four members of the public during the public participation process earlier this year.
One of these was from Mark Sangster, a former city police chief now with Securitas SA, who asked that property owners’ associations be added to the list of organisations that would qualify for subsidisation, as they had a “vested interest in making areas safe”.
Haskin said city officials claimed it would cost too much to store surveillance footage, yet admitted that the council already had 750 terabytes of surveillance footage “of us going about our daily lives, already being stored”.
He was also concerned that there was no maximum height stipulation in the policy for the installation of cameras on poles, and that this could infringe on the privacy of residents in residential areas, for example.
Donald said the right to personal privacy was protected by the constitution and that this would be the legal recourse in situations where privacy was threatened.
“Companies have to respect these kinds of rights as well, even in private areas. However, I think the Cape Town operation is clear about responsible usage and this is reflected in policy and control room practice. I’m also sure there are clear procedures and obligations laid down in the metro’s control rooms over confidentiality and handling of data. This is to stop things appearing on sites like YouTube.”
Haskin said the city agreed to amend the policy so that the cameras’ field of view would protect privacy interests – but only if a member of the public asked for this to be done.
Donald said the policy was a good step that would put Cape Town in line with international cities. The UK was more focused on privacy issues in public spaces, but it would be difficult for South Africa to curb crime with the same approach. Australia has a similar approach to South Africa’s with its emphasis on responsible coverage.