To CCTV or not CCTV

Like many people I have instinctive worries about Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in public places. There is still enough youthful anarchy in my aging body to want to preserve a private space. My dog Winston’s hero is Winston Smith, the protagonist in Orwell’s famous dystopian novel 1984, where Big Brother was watching and ‘thoughtcrime’ was illegal.

But a gut feeling is no basis for important public policy. And the present Port Phillip Council has a policy opposing CCTV in public spaces that is not based on evidence.

I think that it is time for the Council to re-consider its policy on CCTV.

There have been many calls for Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in ‘hot-spots’ of violence in Port Phillip. Proponents would point to the crucial role of CCTV in apparently solving the tragic rape and murder of Mrs Meagher in Brunswick.

What is the evidence? What should we do in Port Phillip?

In 2010 Victorian Law Reform Commission released a report called ‘Surveillance in Public Places’. The report has recommendations to modernise surveillance laws, and to promote the responsible use of surveillance devices in public places. The recommendations strive to ensure that users of surveillance devices do not infringe the rights of the Victorian public.

The recommendations in the report include:
clarifying, and strengthening the Surveillance Devices Act 1999
prohibiting surveillance in public toilets and change rooms
prohibiting a person recording an activity or conversation which they are part of without the consent of the other parties
broadening the role of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner to include regulation of public place surveillance
creating two new rights to sue over serious invasions of privacy.

I recently discussed this issue with Spencer Zifkcak, the President of Liberty Victoria. He believes that the Law Reform Commission report is excellent. I think that this report should be the starting point for a re-consideration of our CCTV policy.

unChain’s policy is that the Council should research whether CCTV might be an appropriate way to increase public safety in the ‘hot-spots’ of Port Phillip. It should take into account the full range of issues and the positions of stakeholders. Our policy on CCTV must be based on sound evidence, not gut feelings.

~ Peter Holland
President, unChain Inc

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