Telangana’s capital Hyderabad has found a place among the top 50 CCTV-surveilled cities in the world. According to a report published by the UK tech firm Comparitech, Hyderabad ranks 16th in the list and is the top-ranked Indian metropolis. With nearly 3 lakh CCTVs for a population of over one crore (2020 estimates), Hyderabad has 30 CCTVs per 1,000 people.
Telangana director-general of police Mahender Reddy, a former Hyderabad police chief, tweeted his congratulations to the city police and other stakeholders for “making the city a safer place to live in”.
China dominates list
Chennai, ranked 21st overall, comes a close second in Indian surveilled cities, while Delhi is a distant third at 33rd.
However, Hyderabad may be gloating over a dubious honour.
Eighteen of the top 20 cities in the list are located in China, while third-ranked London is the only city situated outside of China apart from Hyderabad. In the top 50 rankings, 34 cities are in China, two – Moscow and St Petersburg – are in Russia, and Baghdad is located in strife-torn Iraq. All three countries have been classified as “authoritarian regimes” in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2019 Democracy Index.
Taiyuan in China is the most surveilled city, with over 4.6 lakh cameras keeping an eye on nearly 39 lakh people. This translates to around 120 CCTVs for 1,000 people – the highest ratio among the 50 cities.
China’s capital Beijing is ranked 5th while financial nerve-centre Shanghai comes 12th in the list. Notably, Wuhan, the reported epicentre of coronavirus, is ranked 23rd in the list and Urumqi, the capital of the restive Xinjiang province, is at 13th place.
No correlation between crime rates and CCTVs
The Comparitech report notes the primary argument in favour of CCTV surveillance: Improved law enforcement and crime prevention. However, the evidence suggested by the report points to no correlation between CCTV cameras and crime rates.
“A higher number of cameras just barely correlates with a lower crime index,” the report reads, suggesting that more cameras do not necessarily mean reduced number of crimes. Case in point: Taiyuan, London and Baghdad – all have a high crime index score compared to their CCTVs per 1000 people. Crime index is a range between 0 and 100 with 0 denoting negligible crime rates and 100 meaning totally unsafe.
Coming to Hyderabad: It has a crime index of 43.46 despite its high number of CCTVs.
Privacy concerns remain
The Hyderabad Police have been hailed on the internet for employing CCTV surveillance. However, that surveillance could infringe upon the privacy of citizens is an issue still largely unaddressed by policymakers. “The fact is that live video surveillance is ramping up worldwide,” the report says, adding that face recognition technology used in China has been utilised to restrict public transport for people.
M Nageswara Rao, the controversial former interim director of CBI, has issued a word of caution against the Orwellian idea of surveillance. Taking to Twitter, he said that if the State is allowed to act like a Big Brother, it would be time to write an obituary to democracy.
“Trampling Right to Anonymity, Right to Privacy and Freedom of Movement by CCTV surveillance of public places is an issue of extraordinary importance that seems to have escaped freedom lovers. State can't indiscriminately violate citizens' rights just because technology enables it,” he tweeted.