CCTV in Universities

Posted by Merlin Oommen at Aug 10, 2011 06:10 AM |
Basic Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Infrastructure is used to observe movements from a central room, and consists of one or more video cameras that transmit video and audio images to a set of monitors or video recorders.

A Brief History of CCTV's

Video surveillance as a means of policing gained prominence in the 1950s when the UK police installed two pan-tilt cameras on traffic lights to monitor traffic near the Parliament. Since then the United Kingdom has become the country with the most number of surveillance cameras.[1]

The proliferation of CCTVs has been attributed to the growing radicalization of human behaviour wherein organized groups terrorized entire nations and threatened their internal security. The 1985 terror attack on the then Prime Minister of Britain by the IRA and many such instances thereafter have led many countries to adopt CCTV as a means of policing. In India, terror attacks on the Mumbai stock market and successive instances have pushed the Indian Government to install CCTVs in prominent public areas so that it is possible to monitor suspicious movements.[2]

CCTVs and Public Perspective

Since the 1950'sCCTVs have become ubiquitous and ever present, monitoring our daily movements, and infringing into our personal space. Though governments believe CCTVs are essential security instruments, the public is less convinced. The early anxiety to be safe from an unseen danger has given way to a new unease amongst the people, that of constantly being watched by an unseen eye. 

CCTVs in Educational Institutions

CCTVs are typically used by the government or private agencies for surveillance in areas frequented by the public that need monitoring.  Recently though, universities across the length and breadth of the country have resorted to the use of CCTVs for policing campus activities and to keep the students in check and under control. Huge budgets are set to wire campuses with CCTV infrastructure, t causing students to protest as well as laud the initiative by the administration. The debate on CCTVs has gained momentum in recent years with students staging huge rallies both in support of and against it.

Example 1:

The most prominent of the agitations against CCTVs was staged by the students of Jadavpur University in Kolkata on the administration’s decision to install 16 CCTVs on the four main exit points of the campus and other strategic locations.[3] The installation cost Rs.20 lakh. The students protested loudly against the decisions and ‘gheraoed’ the office of the vice chancellor for 52 hours. The students claimed that the administration was curbing their individual freedom and robbing the campus of it’s democratic atmosphere. The administration refused to remove the cameras, and claimed that the move was necessitated for the security of the students and to prevent any unforeseen incident.

Example 2:

The girl’s residing in the Women’s Hostel of The University of Pune protested against the setting up of CCTV cameras’ in the entrances of the hostel to check for unauthorized visits from boyfriends and friends. The girl’s vandalized the camera and claimed that they were an infringement to their privacy. The hostel authorities insisted that the cameras did not infringe on the privacy of the women, and were only installed at the entrance gates to keep a tab on visitors.[4] The authorities claimed that this step was taken in congruence with the hostel’s policy of not allowing visitors to stay the night.

Example 3:

The girls of the Churchgate’s Government Law College succeeded in getting the CCTV camera removed from the Girl’s Common Room, as it was seen as an infringement to their privacy. The MNS stepped up the agitation in favor of the students which led the college administration to finally take notice and remove the camera from the common room.[5]

The Flip Side

The issue of CCTVs in campuses takes an interesting turn when the students support the move to install cameras in campuses.

Example 1:

Delhi University installed CCTV cameras in their campuses after the Delhi Police issued an advisory for the same. They claimed that the advisory issued was to monitor the instances of on campus ragging. The Delhi Police also helped fund the setting up of CCTVs in the college. This move was lauded by the students, and the colleges took instant measures to wire their campuses.[6]

Example 2:

Recently, after the murder of a Delhi University student named Radhika Tanwar in broad day light, many student union groups assembled for a candle light vigil. They demanded CCTV cameras near the Satya Niketan bus stop where Radhika was killed which is an isolated stretch of a road. The massive agitation of almost a week brought the National Commission of Women into the foray who seconded the demand put forth by the student body.[7]

 Example 3:

The recent instance of an RTI exposing inflated bills for setting up CCTVs in the Punjab University Campus also throws light on an interesting facet to this debate as the students do not mind the CCTVs in their campus. The student’s union of the university demanded the authorities to look into the discrepancies of the budget, and also expressed anger as the CCTVs installed did not work. The students claimed that the rising violence in the campus is because of disinterested security men and non working CCTV cameras.[8]

Conclusion

The decisions to use CCTVs as a means of surveillance evokes mixed responses. On one side of the debate they are seen as a deterrent to crime while on the other side of the debate they are seen as beinggross infringements on privacy. CCTV surveillance remains as a bone of contention amongst students. If they feel that their personal space is being invaded by these cameras then it needs to be addressed by the administration in a manner which appeases their fear. Universities randomly adopt the policy of CCTV surveillance, disregarding any voice of dissent. Kashmir University put up CCTVs in it’s campus to shoo away lovebirds and the Aligarh Muslim University has installed 57 CCTV cameras in it’s campus to keep a check on students. The rise of the CCTVs in colleges relates to not the actual crime but to the fear of crime. Therefore, CCTVs have become a tool of re-assurance [9]which feeds a notion of safety and security to the authority in charge.

There is no black and white regarding the implementation of CCTVs in universities. A policy can only benefit both sides when decisions are taken with the students, and not on behalf of them. Indian Universities have no guidelines and policies regarding the implementation of CCTVs and students remain unaware of any decisions in this regard. The Universities should clearly spell out their take on CCTVs including:

  • University policy regarding CCTVs policies
  • The reasons for introducing CCTVs
  • The proposed uses of CCTV infrastructure
  • Which areas in the campus will be kept under surveillance
  • How will the data collected be stored
  • How long will the data be retained
  • How will the data be deleted[10]

The Universities should address all these issues to dispel fear from the minds of the students, and the student unions should be included in the discussions regarding the implementation of CCTVs. 

Notes

 
[1].Webster,William; CCTV policy in the UK: Reconsidering the evidence base; sueveillanceandsociety.org.

[2].Norris, Clive;MC Cahill, Mike;Wood, David; The Growth of CCTV: A Global Perspective on the international diffusion of video surveillance in publically accessible space; surveillance-and-society.org.

[3].Timesnow.tv/jadavpuruniversity, www.haata.com.

[4].http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/female-hostellers-damage-cctv-cameras-to-protect-privacy-83889, http://toostep.com/debate/is-it-right-to-install-a-cctv-in-girls-hostel-to-stop-unauth.

[5].http://www.mumbaimirror.com/index.aspx?page=article§id=2&contentid=201101212011012104560935753ecb888, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/cctv-cameras-in-hostel-rob-pune-women-of-freedom/142681-3.html.

[6].http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/after-delhi-police-advisory-du-to-install-cctv-cameras/761421/.

[7].http://www.indianexpress.com/news/women-constables-cctv-cameras-in-girl-stude/766083/.

[8].http://www.punjabcolleges.com/5526999-itemdisplay-Misappropriation-of-funds-on-CCTV,-RTI-exposed-it-Chandigarh.htm.

[9].www.surveillance-and-society.org/ojs/index.php/journal/article/view/prozac/prozac.

[10].www.ucl.ac.uk/estates/security/documents/cctvpolicy.doc, http://www.wustl.edu/policies/cctv-monitoring-and-recording.html.

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