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Updated: Dec 15, 2020

- Krishna Vasani & Zeel Davda

Imagine a situation where you’re sitting in an examination hall and supervisor is strict, so as to, maintain the discipline and decorum in the classroom and in addition to that, there is the also ‘This area/classroom is under CCTV surveillance’. In real life, we have supervisors in form of police and CCTVs watching us all over. Imagine we live in that classroom every time we step out on the street. It’s like literature nightmare coming true “Big Brother is watching you!” Video cameras or the closed-circuit television (CCTV) have been widely used in recent times for the purpose of preventing crime and maintaining law and order in crowded. This article tries to throw light upon the mixed features of the public surveillance cameras and how the operation can pose a potential threat to the stakeholders by placing their fundamental/human rights on stake.

Right to Privacy

Right to privacy is the major right and also, on stake here. Exposing people to scrutiny every time they walk on the street or in the crowded areas under the banner of maintaining peace and harmony. This poses a very big question that none of us know who is watching us behind the screen or how long the records will be kept or who shall have access to this.[1] There is also a possibility of discriminatory biasness in the form of personal or pecuniary. It is necessary that it should be used for those purposes originally identified when the decision to install them was taken; gradual “misuse/creepiness” must be avoided.[2] Installation of CCTV cameras at public places and places of employment can make the employees uncomfortable and kindle mistrust. Also, digital voyeurism and pornography has seen a spike in the recent cameras with the use of spy cameras and keeping unnecessary track on public activities.[3] Back in 2014, Delhi Metro CCTV footage was on YouTube and also, on some very questionable sites.[4] A very famous quote of Benjamin Franklin goes “Those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither.”

Violation of Fundamental Rights

The Indian Constitution guarantees us the freedom of association, freedom of speech and expression in alignment to the human rights are up for a toss with the public surveillance cameras in place. It discourages people from exercising these rights in public places. It questions the very idea of democratic self-government. It eventually leads to a reduction in political freedom and democratic participation. It is important that CCTV is used to prevent crime and promote public safety and never for the purpose of gathering information about the political views or activities of the citizen.[5] In India, the installation of cameras near the traffic signals where challans are issued for the law-breakers but it can have its adverse effects where the owners of the cars and their data can be misused and can lead to criminal abuse.

Another major threat is because of the well-connected and developed technology systems and the internet-connected IP cameras have become a booming concern.[6] Such systems have been a pawn to cyber attacks in recent times and pose an imminent threat to the individual’s liberty and also, to the state as a whole. It can even turn into a terror attack to the country and may lead to irreparable losses.

Judiciary's View

The developments in the judiciary are also to be noted. The order passed by the Bombay High Court states that no CCTV cameras should be installed outside one’s apartment without the consent of the residents as it invades the right to privacy of the individual.[7] Supreme Court, on the other hand, has ruled in the favor of the installation of the cameras, even in the court premises[8] and has given a nod for installing cameras inside the schools and colleges.[9] The governments of the various states have also given permissions for installing cameras. The Karnataka government makes it compulsory to install CCTV cameras in crowded areas.[10] Maharashtra government is looking forward to making it compulsory to install CCTVs in private buildings and the purpose stated by the government is for prevention of crime, especially against women.[11]

IT ACT, 2000

There is as such no regulations or legislation except for the IT Act, 2000 which is a toothless wonder as the violation of the privacy is a bailable offence with only three years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2 lakh.[12]

Recommendations from Justice A.P Shah

However, in 2011, there was an ignition on this matter in form of a recommendation committee formed with experts in it and headed by Justice A.P. Shah. The suggestion therein included obtaining the consent of the public/individual; notifying general public by the signboard, taking court’s permission before accessing such information, retention for such data for short period and also, setting up of regulatory body and redressal system.[13]

Being a democratic nation that we are public’s consent should be the priority of the government and the system should be in place and not haywire. We are yet a developing economy and the trust in police and government is hard-won and easily lost.[14] Privacy has always been something that the public has been vocal about as it is an individual fundamental right and the government should ensure that they don’t threaten this right. Amid the CCTV boom, right from purchasing the CCTV to permission for its installation to the retention of the data of the footages to the accessing rights, framing appropriate laws should monitor everything and the lacuna that exists, about no appropriate laws in place, should be filled in the least possible time.

Like any intrusive technology, the benefits of deploying public video cameras must be balanced against the costs and dangers. This technology (a) has the potential change the core experience of going out in public because of its chilling effect on citizens, (b) carries very real dangers of abuse and "mission creep," and (c) would not significantly protect us against terrorism. Given that, its benefits - preventing at most a few street crimes, and probably none - are disproportionately small.[15]

One of the most fundamental tensions in modern democratic societies is the completion between the demand for security and our shared commitment to the protection of basic human rights. As soon as fundamental truth is forgotten, it is only a matter of time before surveillance begins to place rights in jeopardy.[16]

Krishna Vasani & Zeel Davda are third year students at Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai.


[1] Benjamin J Goold, “CCTV and Human Rights” in Citizens, Cities and Video Surveillance: Towards a Democratic and Responsible Use of CCTV (Paris: European Forum for urban Security, 2010) 27. , Available at: [2] Ibid [3] Abhinav Banerjee, Rampant use of CCTV in public invades privacy, The Telegraph, March 5, 2019, 07:04 am, [4] Role of CCTV Cameras: Public, Privacy and Protection, IFSEC GLOBAL, [5] Supra Note 1 [6] Supra Note 4 [7] Farhad Ginwalla and Ors. v. Zenobia R. Poonawalla, 2018 SCC, Bom 1265, para 7 [8] Prachi Bhardwaj, We don’t need privacy; CCTV cameras should be installed in the courts: SC, The SCC Online Blog, November 21, 2017, [9] SC refuses to stay plea on installation of CCTV cameras in govt schools, July 12, 2019, 06:55 pm, [10] Nolan Pinto, Karnataka makes it compulsory to install CCTV cameras in crowed areas, India Today, August 5, 2018, 04:19 pm, [11] Maharashtra Government Looking to make CCTV Cameras compulsory in Private Buildings, March 05, 2020, 06:08 pm, [12] Surabhi Agarwal, Violation of privacy through CCTV cameras rampant, say experts, Business Standard, April 04, 2015, 11:46 pm, [13] Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, Group of Experts on Privacy Report, October 16, 2012, [14] What’s wrong with public video surveillance? , March 2002, [15] Id [16] Supra Note 1

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