Watching how we watch?

Thimphu is getting a new face, so to speak.  Its city lines and corners are getting a makeover of a sort. Holes are being dug and CCTV cameras are being fixed on the electric poles.

All for the attempt to deter crime in the city. It is all for safe city solution project, we are told.

It is a good idea. It certainly will help prevent crime. Thimphu alone contributes to more than 60 percent of the crime in the country. The idea behind the safe city solution project is to instill fear among the wild and reckless. And then, we have people who break traffic rules. Traffic violation cases are on the rise, especially in the capital. Between 2013 and 2015, there were 1,882 motor accidents.

The advantage is that from the camera footages, we will be able to figure who does what. This will largely help ease burden on community policing. The project will also be useful to protect homes, offices and workplaces, among others.

These all are the advantages of installing CCTV cameras within the limits of the towns. But there are also disadvantages. How do we measure how much good a CCTV camera does and what loopholes we create? Places where we live ought to be clean and safe, organised and beautiful, all right. But is installing CCTV cameras the ultimate solution?

A better plan would be to school the law enforcers to be incorruptible and to increase police presence in towns and city centres. CCTV cameras might help quick police response to crimes, but it could also encourage lax attitude among law enforcers.

The thing with criminal attitude is that nothing stops a person from yielding to passion for crime. Crimes could be reduced in certain areas due to CCTV cameras, but what really happens is that crime areas shift. Criminals find new haven to exercise their passion.

And there is the issue of cost. It is expensive to buy cameras, the kind of quality we are told we are using, and to pay experienced public defenders to watch them. Also, hackers can play havoc with our security camera system. What could be so damaging, however, is that in the long run, it will be seen and felt as invasive and voyeuristic more than benefits it can provide.

Some of the offices have set up CCTV cameras. While employers could have their reasons to do so, employees too have theirs to defend their rights. Invasion of privacy is a crime.

What we need is a legal instrument that spells clearly how the system ought to be used so that it doesn’t become costly and intrusive. Good ideas are good only as long as they do good to the society at large. CCTV cannot stop crimes as they happen; it will not tell us where else crimes can happen.

How are we watching how we watch?

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