Friday 28 October 2016

'Assault' on our civil liberty by cameras can be force for good

A loss of 'private space' is a price worth paying for safer streets but a balance must be struck

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

A man is kicked in the face on Dublin's Aston Quay, St Patrick's Day 2014. The incident was captured in a camera phone video which went viral.
A man is kicked in the face on Dublin's Aston Quay, St Patrick's Day 2014. The incident was captured in a camera phone video which went viral.

The young Brazilian student didn't stand a chance. He was still on the ground, dazed from a serious assault, and struggling to get to his feet. As he leaned forward, attempting to get off the ground, a kick came in – a sickening full boot to the face.

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The victim's head snapped back with force and slapped into the pavement. He was knocked out cold.

Welcome to Dublin city centre on St Patrick's Day. The assault on the innocent young foreign student was one of a number of serious incidents that marred the national holiday.

But this assault, which gardai believe was an unprovoked and random attack, was different. Within minutes footage taken on a mobile phone was posted on the web.

The young man who landed the kick with such ferocity wheeled away after the attack and walked briskly away, fists still clenched, his face an angry snarl.

As he made his escape into the cover of the St Patrick's festival crowds, he walked right into the viewing field of the phone camera.

He was clearly identifiable. Two men were arrested during the week and later eleased. A file is being prepared for the DPP.

The all-pervasive presence of photography and high-quality video footage can be an undeniable force for good. The guilty caught on camera can be caught and punished.

Ireland has a remarkable density of smart phones equipped with hi-tech photographic capabilities. More than 1.6 million people here now have a smartphone, according to an Eircom household sentiment survey.

The study found that 71 per cent said they use their smartphone sitting in their car, 51 per cent on public transport.

It means that once you close the front door behind you, you can be photographed or videoed, often without your knowledge. And it is understandable that people become upset and angry when there images appear on social media and other outlets without their knowledge. It is an assault on privacy.

But, most right-thinking people want their local towns and villages monitored by official CCTV.

A balance has to be struck given the now all-pervasive nature of smart phone cameras and CCTV.

A majority of law-abiding citizens believe the loss of personal "private space" as you go about your daily business is worth paying if it means safer streets; if it curtails shoplifting and burglary; if it acts as a deterrent to those intent on committing random acts of violence and vandalism; and if it keeps our roads safer.

Yes, CCTV in particular must be used with care and there should be proper controls. But can anyone put forward a compelling argument that it is an "assault" on our civil liberty to be videotaped as you walk to the train the morning and wander home from the pub in the evening, perhaps a little too refreshed?

According to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, recognisable images captured by CCTV systems are "personal data" and, therefore, are subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Acts.

A data controller needs to be able to justify the obtaining and use of personal data by means of a CCTV system.

A system used to control the perimeter of a building for security purposes will usually be easy to justify.

But the use of CCTV systems in other circumstances – for example, to constantly monitor employees, customers or students – can be more difficult to justify and could involve a breach of the Data Protection Acts.

One interesting case, examined by the Data Protection Commissioner, involved a CCTV system operated on the LUAS line by operators Connex.

A householder complained that the CCTV camera used to monitor the line also overlooked his back garden giving rise to the feeling that the family were under constant surveillance and were unable to enjoy their private property.

The Data Commissioner agreed, as indeed did Connex. The solution was a modification of the system so that the camera and monitor would show a black screen when moving over the private property in its range.

That would appear to be an eminently sensible application of data protection laws in relation to CCTV.

The householder's privacy was protected but the LUAS operators were still able to monitor anti-social or illegal activity on the public transport network.

Sunday Independent

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