Cape Town.  120620.  The CCTV control room in Cape Town
Photo by Michael Walker
Cape Town. 120620. The CCTV control room in Cape Town Photo by Michael Walker

Big Brother is watching you

By Time of article published Jun 21, 2012

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Caryn Dolley

BIG BROTHER is watching. And you virtually cannot escape him in the city centre.

A total 110 CCTV cameras around the CBD can be maneuvered to watch you so closely even your expression can be picked up. And if you’re in a car, the number plate can be read.

Aside from the CBD cameras, there are another 500 CCTV “eyes” around the rest of Cape Town, including in small streets and along freeways.

The CBD camera footage is viewed in the city’s “Cyclops” centre, opposite the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and in the Transport Management Centre in Goodwood. This is a larger version of the Cyclops centre where footage from a larger number of cameras is screened.

Security is tight at these secret centres, where, unbeknown to hundreds of people going about their business, they are watched by a number of camera monitors.

Late Monday, a Cape Times team accompanied metro police director Sean Peterse and Charl Kitching, a senior superintendent, to the Cyclops centre.

In one room, big widescreen TVs were mounted on the wall and on each screen, footage from various cameras could be seen, showing pedestrians in various streets around the city.

When suspicious activity was spotted from one camera’s footage, this is how operations unfolded. As we watched, a suspected drug deal unfolded before our eyes.

A camera monitor scrutinised footage showing a young man with his shoulders slightly hunched, slip his hand into a pocket and then hand another man a small packet.

The monitor, using what appeared to be a small joystick, was able to zoom in on the men and follow their movements as they walked away.

Different cameras focused on the men as they walked.

Information about the duo, suspected to have carried out a drug deal, was fed to the Central City Improvement District (CCID) and shortly afterwards, cameras picked up CCID members pulling up in a van next to them.

The men were searched and the CCID members were fed information from the monitor, about where they were believed to have hidden the drugs.

In another room, more widescreen TVs showing CCTV footage from even more cameras were being watched by monitors.

One demonstrated how a camera could zoom in on a car in the distance and clearly show its numberplate.

The monitor showed how another camera in Woodstock could zoom on to a shop to show its interior.

“You can get the price of the bananas,” Kitching joked.

He said that the footage was recorded and stored and police could access it if it was needed for an investigation.

Yesterday, safety and security mayco member JP Smith said there were more than 650 CCTV cameras throughout Cape Town.

The cameras had varying purposes, which included informing services of faults such as broken streetlights, crime and fire prevention and detection, traffic management, ensuring response to medical incidents and detecting the infringement of by-laws.

He said footage from the cameras was state evidence and members of the public wanting to use the footage would have to work through the police.

Smith said the issue of invasion of privacy had been discussed.

“There have been a few complaints regarding privacy where households are concerned that surveillance staff will monitor their private property without their consent.

“However, the camera monitors are supervised and the footage is recorded so action can be taken against them if they invade anyone’s privacy.”

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