New Delhi: The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has issued a legal notice to the Delhi government to immediately stop the installation of about 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in the national capital, calling it a “dangerous and irrational” approach to the issue of crime against women and public safety.
In a press release along with the notice, the foundation, a privacy advocacy group, termed the project “a voyeur’s dream, a stalker’s paradise”.
“It has the potential of being used (against) the most vulnerable and those who lack power and may even be put to use for crime through digital stalking and monitoring the movement patterns especially of women in a locality,” it asserts.
The installations, set to cost about Rs 500 crore, are scheduled to begin on 8 June.
‘Unconstitutional and indiscriminate’
The notice, dated 6 June, also says the project fails to meet the Constitutional guarantee of privacy and adds that “such indiscriminate and arbitrary use of CCTV systems creates a surveillance state”.
The foundation further alleges that the project has been progressing in an opaque manner, without any public consultation on the issue. This has been backed by an RTI response from the Delhi government, which claims that the bid documents, as well as information pertaining to the bids, are all available in the public domain when complete details aren’t available in reality.
The notice warns the government of legal action for violation of fundamental rights and misuse of public funds if the authorities don’t withdraw the project. In its press release, the IFF reminded the Delhi government that George Orwell’s book 1984 “is work of fiction and caution, not an instruction manual”.
No feasibility study or cost-benefit analysis
The notice has objected to the Delhi government setting aside Rs 571.40 crore for the project, “in the absence of any feasibility study or cost-benefit analysis”.
While the government has claimed that the project is being implemented to improve the security and safety of citizens, IFF asserts that there is a global acknowledgement that CCTVs have little to no impact in acting as a deterrent or reducing crime.
It also points out that no attempt appears to have been made to ascertain whether better results could have been achieved by less intrusive and more economical measures such as better street lighting, and training and sensitisation of first responders such as public transport staff.
Violation of the right to privacy judgment
The IFF has challenged the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) dated 27 August 2018, which forms the framework for the project, asserting that it violates the Supreme Court judgment in Justice KS Puttaswamy v Union of India.
The notice states that the SOP does not have any authority of law as it does not emerge from legislation or an existing executive power of the Delhi government. It also notes that the SOP does not mention any restrictions or limitations on the duration of storage of the footage, conditions for sharing the footage, and the residents’ rights to access, rectify or demand the deletion of the footage.
It especially highlights the fact that the information so collected is stored, used and shared by Market Associations and Resident Welfare Associations.