The Constitution enshrines an individual’s Right to Privacy, Freedom of Movement and Freedom of Association. The issue of taking data from public land and profiteering from the on selling is in contravention of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) as an individual or affected party must be consulted and give their express consent.
It’s concerning to note the installation of CCTV cameras across the City of Jo’burg has raised many eyebrows with sections of society that are worried about the ever-growing surveillance within the city. Grey poles can be seen in almost every street corner. Needless to say, the alarming, rapid rate at which these cameras are being installed raises a series of questions about the prescription to the law.
It is worrying to note that, the City of Jo’burg does not even have a policy to regulate the cameras let alone make public the way-leaves that they have in place with these companies. The law requires that they make these public and also ensure that wherever the cameras are installed, there should be a process that seeks to open public consultations to ensure that people are aware of these things and
they consent to the use of cameras in the areas they live in.
This is indeed a cause for concern for all those who value their right to privacy as enshrined in the constitution. One of the immediate questions is, why? Why do we have so many cameras in the city and for what purpose are these serving? In recent narratives, the justification has always been to rationalize this sudden influx of these cameras owing to crime-busting and security. Then the other question is: security for who, we know that these cameras can be seen mostly in middle-class suburbia and have no larger public security guarantees to everyone subjected to this form of surveillance.
We also know that these cameras are for a specific class of people that are able to pay their way to secure their private property. No one can argue with that given the high crime rate but this begs the question, in our quest to prevent ourselves from being victims of crime and ensure our private residence are secured, does this have to come at the cost of privacy for those who do not reside in these areas but access these areas for employment purposes for instance. Can the security of a section of a few well to do individuals trump the right to privacy for those who access the area for other reasons besides residing in these areas?
Many experts have written articles and books about the dangers of the fibre cable based cameras if not well regulated. Until the enforcement of POPIA, we cannot guarantee that the safeguards put in place by the act are been heeded to by the companies that actually install these cameras. There is a bigger moral question to ask with regards to whether these companies are indeed POPIA compliant or not. It remains a challenge to establish the facts as we all know how difficulties in so far as having the office to be in operation and have a fully functional Information Regulator, let alone one that can fully enforce the law and ensure that citizens’ rights are protected.
So, why does this matter?
There is a gross violation of privacy rights, civilians are being survail without their knowledge and or consent. Very little is known of what the security companies do with the data that they collect. The other matter is the fact that these cameras have license plate recognition that stores thousands of number plates, as you can see on the live feed, 543 cars are identified per minute. Given that this fibre network is not full proof from hacking, what then are the repercussions should this data fall into the wrong hands? Who has access to this information, is this information passed on to a third party, how and what do they use it for?
In recent weeks we have seen the issue of privacy and security surveillance coming under immense scrutiny across the US, UK and Europe. The forerunners in challenging mass surveillance and human rights are Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and Privacy International with both organisations approaching the courts in their respective countries.
When travelling you will notice the proliferation of grey UFO dome structures in the Metropolitan City of Johannesburg. These structures are owned and operated by a single private company with them boasting about 15,000 structures being erected by December 2019. These structures utilise Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and CCTV cameras with AI software that currently
covers 500sqkm in the city.
We have raised several concerns to various oversight bodies and regulators like the Information Regulator, Private Security Industry and the Premier of Gauteng to explain the masssurveillance and wholesale allocation of land for these structures.
Several organization like the Right 2 Know Campaign have raised concerns about the possible data breaches that these cameras could potentially pose to the public through pervasive personal data collection. Civilians are subjected to these cameras civilians without ever giving their consent or being aware that they are being monitored. We know how the telemarketers have been guilty of mining data
through these kinds of collusion.
Why should you care? Well, the City of Johannesburg has no oversight of the data extracted or the profiling done by privately owned CCTV and ANPR. All you require to install cameras taking private data from public roads and verges is a simple outdated wayleave, which fails to consider Private Security Industry Act, Provincial Road Traffic legislation or POPIA. A further concern would the State Security clearance to obtain consent from Embassies and the movement of diplomats across the city. We approached the offending company to refuse consent and invoke privacy rights under Section 14 of the Constitution with their response being “does not have the ability to ‘block’ vehicles on its surveillance network, neither are we legally obliged to in terms of POPIA.” We have approached the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Roads Agency to inspect the documents surrounding the blanket authority and wayleave given for the 15,000 structures to a single company without Public Consultation, Request for Proposals or even a basic tender. The City Transport and Contracts
department fails to respond to paid J750 applications under the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
Without any clear policy or legal test case the question of abuse and profiling by non-government agencies or corporates is an infringement and insult to the Rights enshrined in the Constitution. We continue to question if this high-tech security is a new form of Dompass where your car and you are profiled for either belonging or not welcome in open suburbs or public areas before being ushered away by Private Security for loitering or being considered a security risk. The fact that we have private security companies continuing to mine people’s personal data and invade their privacy remains a cause for concern. We need a discourse on this matter and call for greater accountability by demanding that the Information regulator’s office clamp down on this breach of the law
WRITTEN BY: Thami Nkosi is the Surveillance and Securitisation Organizer with the Right to Know campaign
RIGHT TO KNOW Campaign represents a coalition of civil society groups who are fighting for the right to know.
VUMACAM will be hosting a public participation meeting on Wednesday 28 August 2019 at The Indaba Hotel from 6:30pm-8pm.
Photo Source: Amanda Van Dalen