Illegal CCTV deployment in Delhi is alarming #SaveOurPrivacy

tl;dr

Illegal CCTV deployment has made Delhi the most surveilled city in the world, where surveillance is proliferating without any safeguards in place to keep a check. Worried about this, we wrote to the Hon’ble Lt. Governor of Delhi to highlight our concerns and to ask him to take necessary steps to protect the privacy of the citizens of Delhi.

Previously on the Surveillance Diaries

In the last 10 years, surveillance in the name of public (and women’s) safety has increased exponentially. The Smart City initiative, which is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme under the Central Government, covers 100 Indian cities, has as a “core infrastructure element” the “safety and security of citizens, particularly women”. The initiative has a proposed budget of Rs. 48,000 crores over five years i.e. on an average Rs. 100 crore per city per year. One area in which utilisation of these funds has been consistent across cities is investment in developing a robust surveillance infrastructure. There is also the “Safe City” initiative of the Ministry of Home Affairs, being undertaken under the Nirbhaya Fund in eight Indian cities. It aims to “create a safe, secure and empowering environment for women in public places, to enable them to pursue all opportunities without the threat of gender-based violence and/or harassment” and has an estimated budget of Rs. 2,919.55 crores. Six lakh CCTV cameras were proposed to be deployed in Telangana by the end of 2020 because a “safe Hyderabad” is a “shaandaar hyderabad”.

These figures are worrisome to the privacy minded citizen, however they are being claimed as an achievement by the respective governments. One such government is the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

On September 7, 2021, we wrote to the Chief Minister of Delhi regarding our concerns about a report titled, “Delhi, Chennai among most surveilled in the world, ahead of Chinese cities” dated August 25, 2021 published on the Forbes India website. According to the report, Delhi is the world’s most surveilled city with 1,826.6 cameras per square mile. Subsequently, through tweets and press releases, the CM’s office claimed this statistic as an achievement of the Government of Delhi, specifically for enhancing women’s safety in Delhi. Per the press release, “(t)his achievement comes as another feather in the cap of the Kejriwal Government which has been completely devoted to its vision of good governance and people-oriented groundwork.”

Here, it is also important to note that it is not just the Government of NCT of Delhi which is deploying CCTV cameras in the national capital, but also the Delhi Police, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report no.15 of 2020 - Performance Audit of Manpower and Logistics Management in Delhi Police - in the last ten years, the Delhi Police has installed 4,100 CCTV cameras in the city to keep a watch on the public places by deployment of cameras at strategic locations with the total expenditure on CCTV cameras being 231.44 Crore INR. The audit observed that during 2018-19, the percentage of cameras which could be monitored (as on the 15th of every month) at C4i ranged from 22 to 48 per cent only. Surveillance feed from the remaining cameras was not available either due to faulty cameras or network related issues.

In the past, the office of the Hon’ble Lt. Governor of Delhi has recognized the need to implement safeguards to prevent violation of citizens’ privacy through CCTV systems. On May 8, 2018, a Committee was constituted to draft a Standard Operating Procedure for installation, operation and monitoring of CCTV cameras in public spaces, and the Committee framed Draft Rules for Regulation of CCTV Systems in NCT of Delhi which could be promulgated under the Delhi Police Act, 1978. However, the present CCTV deployment is happening as per a non-legal Standard Operating Procedure (it lacks any legal basis) due to which concerns related to the right to privacy of citizens of Delhi also arise. The one page standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the Public Works Department of the Delhi Government on August 27, 2018 is untethered to any policy or legal framework. This SOP permits installation of CCTVs and feeds to be made available to RWA representatives, Market Associations, the Public Works Department and the Local Police. These bodies are provided passwords after approval from the local MLA to login and access the feeds. This presents risk to data security and lacks any safeguards or grievance redressal process.

Surveillance ≠ Safety

The reason behind the mass installation of CCTV cameras in Delhi, by both the State Government and the Delhi Police, has been premised on public safety as there is little doubt that there is a high incidence of violent crime focussed towards women and children. The CM’s office launched the present CCTV initiative on June 3, 2019 with an aim to install 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in Delhi. In the 2020-21 budget released by the Delhi Government, they committed to installing an additional 1.3 lakh cameras. As per a news report titled, “Rs 264 crore spent on installing 1.32 lakh CCTVs in Delhi”, published in the New Indian Express dated March 13, 2021, INR 264 crore has already been spent on this exercise, with the total allotment for the project being INR 1,184.73 crore.

Here, it is pertinent to compare this information with data released by the Delhi Police available on its website relating to crime against women for the periods of January to August in 2020 and 2021. As per the data, in 2020, 5,095 cases of crime against women were registered. However, in the same time period in 2021, the number of cases of crime against women registered by the Delhi Police is 8,106. This shows that in 2021 crimes against women have increased exponentially. Thus, it can be surmised that a false equivalency has been made between surveillance and safety which is resulting in the State Government and the Delhi Police making considerable investments in procuring this technology when these funds could be better utilised elsewhere.

Our recommendations

In light of the serious privacy breaches arising as a result of the mass deployment of CCTVs across the city in the absence of any privacy respecting measures and lack of any feasibility study or a cost – benefit analysis or any consideration of its impact on individuals’ right to privacy, we requested the Lt. Governor to examine the following steps on the CCTV Project:

  1. The progress made by the Committee on the draft rules should be made public;
  2. The Committee should undertake a public consultation on the draft rules and the appropriate legal framework post which the rules may be notified after incorporating relevant stakeholder inputs;
  3. The use of CCTV cameras should be regulated as per an interim operational framework modelled on the draft rules as they are put towards a consultation process.

Important documents

  1. Letter to Lt. Governor of Delhi on Illegal CCTV deployment in Delhi dated October 19, 2021 (link)
  2. CCTVs in Delhi: Cause for concern or celebration? dated September 9, 2021 (link)