Video Surveillance: Essential or Excessive?

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

The installation of advanced surveillance cameras in the Mumbai Metro, and that of Hyderabad being the city with the most number of CCTV cameras in India (580,000+), are examples of everyday surveillance.

We solve problems using computer vision, data analytics and anomaly detection. So, I know that we are at a point where cameras can observe, and software within those cameras can ID people, unusual situations or suspicious behavior (anomalies) in real-time, and send alerts, with minimal human intervention. Crime can certainly be reduced. No doubt. Currently, the use case is "Improve Life". But, where can this go wrong? One extreme is privacy invasion. The feeling of being watched and monitored makes citizens uncomfortable. One country is piloting a program where citizens are scored as per actions recorded and analyzed through video surveillance systems. Littering? Subtract 5 points. Donating blood? Add 20 points. Loans might be rejected, you might not be able to board a flight - essentially, your score will determine whether you are a model citizen or not. Does anyone remember "Nosedive" from Season 3 of Black Mirror? Using these technologies, how can we be certain private contractors (developers) and government agencies (users) won’t mess up? What if the system gets hacked? The answer could be in providing transparency, confidence, and assurance the public needs to welcome such changes. Maybe blockchain and its ledgering system come into play. Where will #IndiaPrivacyLaw land on this protecting citizen vs. excessive monitoring scale? Definitely, it should lean towards adequate checks and balances to protect citizens.

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