In the latest edition of the Delhi Government’s CCTV saga, parents will now be able to livestream CCTV footage of the children who study in Delhi govt. schools. Concerned about potential misuse, we wrote to the Chief Minister’s Office urging them to recall the scheme.
Why should you care?
CCTV surveillance has risen exponentially in the national capital. According to a report titled, “Delhi, Chennai among most surveilled in the world, ahead of Chinese cities”, published on the Forbes India website on August 26, 2021, Delhi is the most surveilled city in the world with 1,826.6 cameras per square mile. While we were concerned after seeing this report, the Government of Delhi on the other hand seemed to take it as an achievement. Now, the Government of Delhi is planning to livestream CCTV footage from government schools to the parents of their children. It is essential that we resist the urge to normalise these levels of surveillance, especially because increasing surveillance fails to fulfil its primary promise, a corresponding increase in security.
According to information we have collected through responses received on Right to Information requests and other sources, including media reports, the Public Works Department of the Government of Delhi will be sharing live footage of CCTV cameras installed in government school classrooms with the parents and guardians of the children studying in these schools with the help of executing agencies, M/S Technosys Security System Pvt. Ltd & M/S Reliance Jio Infotech Limited. The parents and guardians will be able to view the live footage through a link provided by the Public Works Department, which will be accessible through “individual secured login credentials with individual IDs and passwords". The scheme will be operationalised only for those parents and guardians who sign consent forms. The purported reason behind the sharing of live CCTV footage is to increase the security of the children studying in government schools in Delhi. According to circular no. F.1/Misc/CTB/CCTV/.2018-19/3179 dated 18.09.2020, the pilot project for the implementation of the scheme has already been carried out at 50 govt. schools in Delhi.
Issues with the scheme
A. Implementation issues
The scheme is being implemented in the absence of any underlying legal framework for data protection or publicly available Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to regulate CCTV surveillance. Unregulated use of CCTVs can result in gross misuse. Available information about the scheme suggests that parents will have to pledge against any misuse of the footage made available to them, failing which action can be taken against them. However, here actions that will be categorised as misuse need to be clearly defined. While sharing of footage with third parties has been identified as a potential misuse which they will have to pledge against, it is unclear who will be classified as third parties. Parents may not view the child’s siblings and other close relatives as third parties and share the access details with them without the knowledge of the school administration, the Public Works Department, the executing agencies and even other parents. Even though the parents may not consider their own relatives as third parties, the parents of their classmates will. Further, while the scheme aims to provide parents with access to their own children, they will be able to access the entire classroom in which their children are. This could lead to irreversible harm as it cannot be determined who may develop criminal intent at any juncture. Lastly, it is unclear if there are any privacy protections which have been put in place to ensure against misuse of the footage by the executing agencies.
B. Do teachers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in classrooms?
It is also unclear whether teachers will have any agency in the scheme since none of the documents publicly available refer to obtaining consent from the teachers in these classrooms. Here, it becomes important to examine whether teachers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in classrooms. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in its decision in the matter of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, held that,
While the legitimate expectation of privacy may vary from the intimate zone to the private zone and from the private to the public arenas, it is important to underscore that privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place. Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the human being.
Thus, while a teacher cannot expect a classroom to be treated as a private space where they will enjoy utmost privacy, continuous surveillance by the state, i.e., the Government of Delhi, and by other private citizens, i.e., parents, cannot be deemed acceptable, especially when the teachers have not been provided any avenue to provide or retract consent. An additional harm of the scheme would also be to enable ‘backseat teaching’, akin to ‘backseat driving’, by parents who have access to the footage who may not agree with the teaching style adopted by the teacher which could negatively affect their teaching process.
C. The effect of surveillance on children
The children who are the objects of surveillance under the scheme also do not have any agency. Here, it is important to differentiate surveillance by the government, which is essentially a tool for discipline and control, from surveillance by a parent, which is a tool of ‘care’. Historically, parents and guardians have exercised certain rights over their minor children to make decisions about their education, security, health, and other aspects of their development to ensure their well-being. However, with “the shift towards surveillance as a practice of ‘care’ in children’s settings, the distinction between control and care is becoming more blurred and ambiguous, as these new forms of care also bring with them new opportunities for control”. According to research, an inverse correlation between intensive surveillance by parents and children developing trust issues towards them can be established wherein pre-teens accept parental monitoring over their online activities as a necessary precaution, but teenagers increasingly resent parental monitoring leading them to be more secretive. Surveillance also affects the healthy social development of children as it decreases opportunities for them to exercise autonomy.
It is clear that this scheme will result in more harm than good. It may lead to unauthorised access to CCTV footage of children in Delhi govt. schools, which may cause inconceivable and irreversible damage to them. Further, the scheme fails to identify and resolve privacy concerns that may arise for teachers and students being surveilled under the scheme. Hence, we have urged the office of the Chief Minister to recall this scheme in our letter.
- Letter to Delhi CMO on CCTV footage sharing in Delhi schools dated July 28, 2022 (link)
- CCTVs in Delhi: Cause for concern or celebration? dated September 9, 2021 (link)