Watching the watchers
by Adriana Homolova, Alice Corona, Beata Hato, Chunchen Dai, Goda Stogyte and Susanne Finken
"1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
~ Art.8, European Convention on Human Rights.
A right to privacy. But not unlimited.
A right to privacy. But its bounds are object of interpretation.
While aiming at a risk-proof society, and with the advancement of technologies that lead the way towards this goal, the debate of where to draw the line between privacy intrusion and safety measures is one of growing urgency. It instills legislation, should steer technological research, and is central when reflecting on the actual pros and cons of privacy invasive security measures.
All of this is true for surveillance cameras, whose presence - whether we are aware of it or not - is a daily encounter for most of us.
SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS AND SECURITY:
the case of The Netherlands
It is about half past five in the afternoon. I am standing in a small office of a homeless shelter in Utrecht, a three story high building where the people deprived of a place to return to can eat and sleep. In front of me hangs a LCD monitor. It displays small pictures of halls, staircases and the entrance fence. Nothing is moving. It is still early and no guest has yet entered the building. For now, the most exciting thing to see is a pile of dirty bed sheet laying in one of the halls waiting to be washed. “About two years ago, one of the guests stabbed another one with a knife in the neck.”, says Danijela, one of the doormen working here. “The cameras were installed after that. The guests asked for them. They didn’t feel safe anymore. So didn’t the volunteer workers.” While cases like these do not happen often, the cameras are there to stay. “The building is very big. It is handy to have an overview of what is going on in the different parts so in case a situation is about to escalate, you can react accordingly.”
Surveillance is justified with security, to the point that the two terms often are perceived as synonyms. “Security” is the most heard reason for the instalment of surveillance cameras. It is adopted by the private and public bodies to assure safety of the citizens, businesses, employees, as well as to prevent and pursue crimes against property such as theft or burglary.
The monitoring of public spaces such as the town centres, shops, banks and hospitals in Europe began to explode in the 1990ties. Twenty years later, the boom is continuing, as even more surveillance cameras appear. However, up to date there are no hard data available on actual numbers. There have been, for example, estimated 1.8 million cameras in the UK only. "[An] average person is likely to be ‘caught’ on CCTV 70 [times a day] – and most of these will be at your workplace or fleeting glimpses by cameras located in shops."
Another 1 million cameras is estimated to watch our steps in the Netherlands.
Despite this boom, both in number of surveillance cameras and in the quality of the technologies deployed, its actual impact on crime rate is still object of discussion.
In fact, there are several factors that add up to the effectivity of a surveillance system. One of the most important is that the footage is watched live. This ensures that the authorities are able to react fast in the case of an incident taking place. The monitoring center has to be able to effectively communicate suspicious events with the police. The police also has to be able to react accordingly. Here the sufficient number of policemen and closeness to the location is critical in the capability to make an effective use of the camera surveillance. Although the footage can be used to identify an offender after the incident has taken place, in practice it is not very often the case. While one can generally recognize suspicious behaviour on the footage, the possibility to look into the details tends to be limited. This has to do with another important factor - the position of the camera, available light and the quality of the images. Even if the quality improves with time, there is still a big portion of analog cameras out on the streets.
As research shows, surveillance has only a small effect on the deterioration of the criminals. While placing the surveillance camera, one has to think carefully about the sorts of offences that are being committed in the area. For example, impulsive offenders that commit most of the violent crimes or vandalism either do not care for surveillance, or are not aware of its existence. On the other hand, experienced criminals learn how to circumvent it with time or even avoid being seen on the camera altogether.
It is interesting to note though, that the mere presence of a camera has a positive influence on the general feelings of safety even if the crime rates do not really drop in the area.
Read more >>
LATEST TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN SURVEILLANCE:
analyzing European Union's research initiatives.
Any debate about privacy protection and surveillance cameras is inevitably linked with the technologies used. Not all cameras are equal, as not all technologies applied to collect and interpret the data are equal as well. Knowing the technical details and understanding where the latest research is heading are the essential elements for critical informed opinions about video surveillance. In 2013 the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) by the European Union comes to an end. What CCTV related projects has it been financing? As "the watched" aren't usually dangerous terrorists but ordinary citizens portrayed in their daily life activities, is their privacy ever a concern?
It seems that, despite many addresses to ethics, research is slanted towards a technological development of which large part is not concerned with privacy. This not only because the fewer money dedicated to privacy-centered projects, but mainly because of the relationships between such projects. First of all many privacy oriented projects have very similar contents and aims. These are moreover usually abstract and conceptual. Secondly, the institutions involved in them aren't participating in projects researching technical innovations: this hardly can facilitate the development of ethical technologies. It is also notable, that not only academics are involved in the research. Private companies have their share as well and while they are not taking part in developing theories as much as in developing technologies, more questions arise about the ethical issues of such research.
Read more >>
THE LAW ON PAPERS, THE POLITICAL CHOICES IN REALITY:
how the law regulates privacy protection in the European Union.
European Union has promulgated the Data Protection Directive in 1995 as an important component of EU privacy and human rights law. The Data Protection Directive, officially Directive 95/46/EC, is on the protection of processing personal data within the European Union.
Based on European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8.2, “there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right (data processing transparency) except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country”.
The debate of balancing the interest of surveillance and intrusion in our privacy is not an easy one. "What we usually see is that our society very much stresses risk evasion, meaning whatever means we have to evade risks should be applied [...]. So it's a difficult dispute because risk evasion has its price, and in this way privacy becomes no longer a serious argument" prof. dr. Corien Prins, the dean of the Law School of Tilburg university, shares her thoughts on the issue. Even so, the legal regulation of the matter is very broad and determined by the EU and national law of data protection, city regulations and criminal codes, that include the rules of installing such cameras as well as the treatment of data that is being gathered by them.
In the Netherlands, the use of covert video surveillance in public places requires notice from 2004. The Hidden Camera Surveillance Act 2003 (Heimelijk Cameratoezicht) makes it unlawful to use hidden cameras in public places without notification. The use of hidden cameras in the workplace remains lawful if there is suspicion of criminal behavior and if workers are notified.
By law society must be kept informed when being watched by CCTVs, excluding unique cases where the rule is not applicable in order to ensure some over-standing public interest. Data collected by these cameras are as well legally accessible to the ones being recorded on it, when the person of the requestant is identifiable and accessing it does not violate the interests of any third parties involved.
However, the application of the law on the data collected by CCTV is a mater of interpretation. These interpretations and, therefore, the application of law in many aspects are determined by political forces and the standing of a society towards the matter. In the Netherlands, the Data Protection Directive regulates that the data subject has the right to be informed when his personal data is being processed. The controller must provide his name and address, the purpose of processing, the recipients of the data and all other information required to ensure the processing is fair.
Unfortunately, the law and public discussion often separate personal data protection from the issue of violation of privacy. The separation of the two in the legal and political discussion is misleading, as it creates the illusion that if the data protection is legally regulated the intrusion in our privacy while collecting it is not an issue anymore.
As the matter of privacy in general is somewhat fragile in nowadays societies, ability to link the different types of personal data we give up on the daily basics to one big picture is the essence. Often, we tend to analyze different information sets that we give up about ourselves as separate units, failing to understand the connections that lie among them. Therefore, in the legal terms and even more in the political and societal arena the concepts of privacy, personal data and fundamental rights should be collected together, in order to achieve more fruitful results in balancing the two: surveillance and privacy.
Read more >>
BALANCE BETWEEN SECURITY AND PRIVACY IN PRACTICE:
surveying awareness and analysing actual crime cases.
Does the presence of a security cameras make us feel safer? Are we actually aware of the presence of surveillance cameras? What do we think happens to the data? Do we modify our behavior because of the cameras? And if yes, when? We have conducted an online survey in order to answer these questions.
Results of an online survey conducted for Watching the watchers did not lead to the one magical solution, but some interesting facts have been revealed by the data. Surveillance cameras are generally approved when used by authorities as weapons to solve a crime. Depending on the scenarios, people approve differently of surveillance cameras, with and without signalization. For instance, surveillance at work to control the employees is not approved by the majority of people, no matter if the employees are informed of it or not. On the other hand, surveillance in a supermarket to prevent shoplifting is approved by the majority, no matter if with or without signalization. Signalization makes a difference when surveillance cameras are installed in an open space such as the city center - the majority only approves of these when there is signalization to inform the people.
Overall it is noticable that there is a very high concern to what happens to the data. Signalization is considered essential. So the key factor to compromise between surveillance, loss of privacy and security is to create awareness and inform the public about which data is captured, what happens to it, who has access to it and the eventual (positive) impact the installation of surveillance cameras has on society and the surroundings.
Read more >>
As oppose to the previous section on people opinion's and thoughts, in some real cases we can see that besides protection and prevention, the presence of cemares can be responsible for fear and privacy issues. In other words, CCTV cameras helps people - so as to their property and possessions - to feel safe.
On one hand, CCTV-s several times help when it comes to investigating details of crimes as it can provide video footage that can reveal undoubted truth. It can also help preventing accidents, and to deter people from commiting crimes. On the other hand, CCTV-s can cause harm people's private life, because sometimes they are used for spying on people and for getting personal data from the analysis of video footage. Also, publicly captured photos can invade individual's life as they can shoot private moments. Read more >>
DOOMED TO A PRIVACY-LESS SURVEILLANCE STATE? Not necessarily.
Regardless of the privacy and security debate, surveillance cameras have an increasing part in our lives. And it's hard to imagine that technological development will not continue in facilitating this trend. Technologies evolve and nowadays cameras can track people’s moods and discover left alone luggage at airports or train stations; they can aid in activities from fighting crime, to finding missing persons to even controlling the traffic. But these improvements happen very quickly, too quickly for people to adapt accordingly. And they do also come at a price, as questions rise about their impact on privacy: what happens to the recorded data? Who will have access to it? Are cameras really going to make things better? And is giving up our privacy worth the safety we get in return? A balance between surveillance and privacy is yet to be found.
This is why understanding the dynamics of this rapidly changing reality is essential. To be an attentive citizen, it becomes vital to request more information about the state of surveillance in your area; to be informed about the development of new technologies and about the ethics implied in them; to know your rights and the legislation that regulates the application of these technologies; and, most of all, to question yourself constantly about the pros and cons of different real-life encounters with surveillance systems and about whether alternative solutions are possible.
It is through this attentiveness that citizens can exercise a pressure strong enough to have an impact in newer privacy-invasive practices, and especially in obtaining transparency about their application and use. And maybe, why not, CCTVs could be used more systematically also to keep an eye on policemen and those that are more powerful: else, while we all are being watched, who watches the watchers?
Camera surveillance situation in The Netherlands: Some points of considerations in this article.
European Union surveillance research: what is being funded and who is involved in it? Discover more here!
The analysis of the European law:
Explore Data protection laws here.
Then deepen the knowledge through a law expert's considerations in this inspiring interview.
Insights on the debate of privacy and surveillance:
A survey has been conducted in order to investigate public opinion about surveillance, security and behavior around surveillance cameras. Have a look.
Also, read more about some real life crime cases solved thanks to surveillance cameras, in this article.