City Pulse is a weekly report on Chennai's civic issues by the City Bureau. This week's inputs are from Ajai Sreevatsan, Petlee Peter, Meera Srinivasan and M. Lavanya.
Technology has come to increasingly dominate our day-to-day lives. From bill payments to grocery shopping, information portals to security systems that keep us safe in our cities – the overarching presence of technology is everywhere around us.
However, greater ease of use and access always comes at a cost. Progress is accompanied with its own set of perplexing questions. A case in point is the recent installation of four security cameras along on the Elliots Beach stretch that are part of a Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) system.
At present, the footage is being monitored at the police outpost on Elliots Beach. A broadband network is expected to soon take the footage simultaneously to the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Adyar.
Two high-speed multi-dome cameras and two fixed camera are part of the CCTV system. The high speed cameras are capable of rotating 360 degrees, have superior zooming features and night vision. The zoom can be used to identify vehicle registration numbers and police feel it will deter bike racers.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Law & Order) Shakeel Akther says the primary aim of such installations was to ensure safety by monitoring criminal activities and build public's confidence in the policing system.
Opinion among residents of the locality, however, remains divided. Arun Pandiyan (19), a college student and regular beach-goer, terms the move “quite shocking”. Crime will always happen, he says, “but recording what I do is an invasion of my privacy. It is unnerving to know that whatever you do can be monitored.”
Nithya Krishnaswamy, a long time resident of Kalakshetra Colony, says a pragmatic approach has to be taken in light of harassment and chain snatching incidents. “If it was an ideal world, I would think it is an invasion of privacy. But I can live with the extra security,” she adds.
In the last six months, more than 2,600 CCTV cameras have been installed in the city. Apart from Elliots Beach, the police are planning to bring the Marina under CCTV surveillance by installing cameras from Labour Statue to Lighthouse. Mr. Akther says, “The CCTV system is likely to come into effect in six months. We are discussing the matter with the Chennai Corporation.”
CCTV facility is also present at 10 different junctions in the city including at War Memorial and near the new Secretariat building. Five new locations where protests are permitted (including Rajarathinam Stadium junction, Binny Road, Memorial Hall and the road opposite the Chennai Collector's office) would also come under surveillance soon, police said.
Schools and colleges have also started installing security cameras.
Chettinad Vidyashram, for instance, has cameras placed in its 16 entrances. S. Amudha Lakshmi, Principal, says: “We had them installed in April. We make a back up copy of the footage everyday so that we have something to refer to in case of any problem. The idea is to monitor who comes into the school and who leaves the premises.”
R.Kishore Kumar, Senior Principal, St. John's International Residential School, says it is important to know where to place such cameras. “There are no cameras in classrooms and staff rooms since there are no safety issues there,” he says.
Anna University is planning to install cameras at hostel entry points. M. Sekar, Dean, College of Engineering, Guindy, says, “Cameras are installed in the entrances and exits of the college, corridors, canteens and examination halls. It is purely for security purposes and 70 to 75 per cent of theft complaints have been resolved with the help of cameras.”
Terming CCTVs as an authorised mechanism that can be used by the police for prevention of crime, Na. Vijayashakar, cyber law expert says, “Privacy rights generally do not have any relevance in public places. The footage can be used as evidence in criminal cases.”