REGULATION OF THE USE OF CCTV AS A CRIME PREVENTION TECHNIQUE
Keywords:closed circuit television, law enforcement technique, data collection, safety and privacy
Having been used for a number of years as part of the security apparatus of banks and stores, closed circuit television (CCTV) is increasingly becoming more prevalent on the streets of South Africa. CCTV monitoring takes place in a number of cities, including Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Pietermaritzburg. (My own interest in this matter derives from my involvement in the Justice Monitoring Project (JUMP), the brainchild of Prof Michael Cowling, which tasked students in 2004 to inter alia monitor the
use of CCTV evidence obtained from the camera network which is run as a joint venture of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Business Against Crime in Pietermaritzburg.) Whilst it has been argued that CCTV cameras can make a meaningful contribution to enhancing the safety of our city streets, the question arises: at what cost? This paper seeks to examine this question in the context of a discussion of the use of CCTV as a law enforcement technique. The focus of the note will be on data collection rather than data collation, and the issue of admissibility of video evidence will not be dealt with. CCTV may be briefly described as a television system wherein signals are not publicly distributed and images are not broadcast. Instead, such images are transmitted from cameras to particular monitors serving a limited area. In the context of cameras located within a city, the images transmitted are primarily of pedestrians walking or transacting on the streets. As Froomkin has noted, whilst moving about in public is not truly anonymous, one at least enjoys the idea, largely consonant with reality in a city environment, of being able to move about with anonymity. This freedom is naturally threatened by privacy-destroying technology such as CCTV. It is evident that the use of such technology involves trying to balance the competing values of safety and privacy. As more cities make use of video surveillance, it appears as if privacy is on the losing side. Whilst this trend is understandable given the standard contradistinction between the tangible harms inherent in security concerns as opposed to the intangible harms occasioned by infringement on privacy, whether it is justifiable is another matter altogether. Spencer has raised a number of concerns about the tangible/intangible division as a framework for decision-making, namely (i) that the framework is incomplete and locks into short-term benefits and consequences rather than taking account of the long-term effects on privacy; (ii) that by embedding the decision in a concrete factual context the decision will inevitably be weighted in favour of preventing tangible harms; and (iii) that the tangible/intangible dichotomy is not as clear-cut as it may seem, since security proposals often serve intangible goals such as allaying fear, whilst privacy intrusions can have tangible consequences such as disrupting or inhibiting behaviour.
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