Legal notice to the Delhi Government to immediately halt CCTV installations.

Highlights

  • Background: The Delhi Government is beginning installations of about 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras putting the privacy and freedom of millions of Delhi residents at risk. Feeds from these will be made available to RWAs and Market Associations - without any safeguards!
  • Infringing privacy, threatening women's safety: The CCTV Project is completely illegal. It has no underlying legal framework or any legal safeguards. Even the  bidding has been carried out in a secretive manner and our RTI for more information on it was deftly dodged by the Government.
  • We put the Delhi Government to notice: Today we sent a legal notice after repeatedly bringing public attention to this issue through social media. In the instance the project continues, we will examine and undertake all steps available under law to fight and defend every person's privacy!

The Delhi Government was for years, stuck in a battle with the Lieutenant Governor to install and fulfil its promise of about 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in Delhi at the cost of 500 crore. The LG’s office had recommended the cameras be installed with the permission of the police, and drafted rules governing the use of CCTVs in Delhi.

Disregarding this, on June 3, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced installation of the cameras would finally begin by June 8. This is a project which will infringe the fundamental right to privacy, is a waste of public money and worse, even can contribute to endangering women's safety. Today we were constrained to send them a legal notice to halt the project immediately. Read on for more details.

A secretive process

For a project costing more than 500 crores and impacting the privacy of millions living and visiting Delhi, there have been no open public consultations inviting comments and suggestions on the rules governing such cameras. There has also been no cost-benefit analysis, and the entire tendering process was done without the bid documents and the scope of work being made publicly accessible.

For instance details of the project were also not provided through our RTI request and the Delhi Government incorrectly claimed that such details were already available in the public domain, when in fact, they were not (read the RTI request and the reply here). For the record the complete details were not made available on the PWD website and even the Standard Operating Procedure for thier installation and operation has not been published in a proper manner.

Assualt on privacy

Hard fought battles of getting and implementing privacy as a fundamental right are now at risk in Delhi, where lakhs of CCTVs will now record each and every movement of citizens. According to one survey conducted on this issue, 210 out of 250 or 84% of the respondent students were concerned about the CCTV footage being used for stalking and personal abuse.

As per the Supreme Court’s decision in the right to privacy case (Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1), the three core elements to gauge the legality of a privacy violation are, (a) legality; (b) legitimate state aim; and (c) proportionality. The CCTV project fails on all these three parameters. Also, for questioning Peters and doubting Thomases, several passages in the right to privacy judgement clearly hold that even information in public spaces has a privacy right attached to them.

A voyuers dream, a stalkers paradise

A one-page note providing the Standard Operating Procedure for such cameras makes the Resident Welfare Association nominee one of the primary custodians of the footage recorded. In the absence of any safeguards, this means that your local neighbourhood committee member can access and use any recordings collected from any cameras within the neighbourhood.

It can also lead to higher crime against women and issues of moral policing given that such unhindered, unregulated and liberal access to CCTV feeds will be provided to a unrestricted number of people. This will be done without any safeguards. When we say, "without any", we mean absolutely zero.

Putting the Delhi Government to Notice

All of these points are set out at length in a legal notice we sent today to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi (Read the notice here) demanding for a halt to such installations, opening up the proposal for public consultations and the addition of adequate safeguards to protect the privacy and freedom of millions of Delhi residents. Today, we remind the Government that Orwell's 1984 is work of fiction and caution, not an instruction manual.

We would like to thank Kritika Bhardwaj, Advocate, for her legal advice on this matter. IFF's work depends a large number of volunteer lawyers who bring their expertise and talent to secure digital rights. Greater impact to our efforts can be achieved by your support. So do consider signing on as a IFF member.

  • Our RTI request to the Delhi Government [link] and the reply received. [link]
  • Note on the Standard Operating Procedure governing CCTV installation and feed-sharing. [link]
  • Legal notice to the Hon’ble Chief Minister. [link]

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