Smart City projects need CCTV video surveillance standards to ensure future stability of data, say experts

Globally, these are the basics of any investment in CCTV as this not only ensures the return on investment, but it also the future scalability and stability of data.

The Indian government's project to have a 100 Smart Cities, which was launched in June 2015, looks quite ambitious at the outset. While the cities have been identified and work has started on some of them, there are a lot of underlying aspects that need to be addressed. One of them, according to the Smart Cities Council India, is the need for the growth of video surveillance security in India and development of surveillance standards.

CCTV cameras

CCTV cameras

Closed circuit TV cameras or CCTV cameras are being looked upon as a prime tool in improving the security apparatus of a city. According to the concluding remarks of the round-table, 'Technology modernisation for Safer and Smarter Cities' held last month, investing in the latest video surveillance technology with highest-resolution cameras, best quality analytical tools and highest capacity storage would help lead to smart surveillance systems for secure and safe areas.

The panel agreed on the need for investing in large capacity storage systems to ensure high-quality video footage is recorded. And it is not just crime prevention where CCTV cameras are proving to be of help. In the recent floods which affected Mumbai on 29 August, the 5000 CCTV cameras helped the Mumbai traffic police deploy manpower in the areas where it was needed the most.

Western Digital will be providing the storage facilities for the Smart City projects. Khwaja Saifuddin, senior sales director for South Asia, Middle East and Africa, said that with high-resolution video cameras being employed for surveillance in the smart city projects, the storage systems will also need upgradation in terms of storage capacity.

According to Saifuddin, "Currently we are lacking standards on both the duration, coverage area and the quality of surveillance recording. CCTV surveillance is being implemented without keeping in mind any minimum standards. Globally, these are the basics of any investment in CCTV as this not only ensures the return on investment but it also the future scalability and stability of data."

But, video surveillance in public spaces also throws open the doors of the debate on privacy.

We spoke to Pratap Padode, executive director and founder of Smart Cities Council India, on the questions around the increased use of video surveillance in the public spaces.

Could you point out to any scientific study which proves that CCTV surveillance helps prevent crime?
A recent example of this could be Microsoft CityNext project with Surat administration which demonstrated that partnership between private and govt. entities can help build smarter cities wherein CCTV surveillance can provide superior support structure in crime prevention.

The world’s fourth-fastest growing city, Surat, with a population of 5.5 million citizens and rapidly growing, was facing a problem of shortage of staffing in its police force. The approximate ratio of 93 policemen to 1 lakh citizens in the diamond processing capital was putting pressure on the police force to reduce the crime rate and keep citizens safe. To protect its citizens, the Surat City Police Department needed to find a way to better monitor and manage city activities.

To bridge the gap between policemen and city growth, the Surat City Police Department started the ‘Safe City Project’ an initiative striving to reduce the city’s crime rate. To use technology as a force multiplier, the department collaborated with Council partner Microsoft in developing advanced surveillance connecting over 6,000 CCTV cameras and keeping vigilance on the entire city from a remote command and control.

Surat became the first Indian city to engage with Microsoft CityNext, using 60+ digital solutions. The department created a data-centre using Microsoft Dynamics, SQL Server and Windows 7, to monitor street activities by tapping into state and national surveillance grids. To improve the existing process of tracking citizen requests, the department created an e-application system that allows the public to view the status of their submissions. Since the city project’s inception, Surat has lowered crime rate by 27 percent in surveillance zones, with enhanced traffic management, improved police response time, and increased transparency on the status of public requests.

Could you elaborate on some of the 'Video surveillance standards' that need to be framed and replicated in the smart cities?
There are standards being deployed by airports, ports, railways which are within the framework of national security norms but are woefully inadequate in terms of availability in terms of technology. There are no standards in place with regards to CCTV surveillance for smart cities yet.

What is the guarantee of privacy when using video surveillance in public spaces? Considering we don't have data privacy laws in place, how would you prevent the misuse of surveillance footage?
There is huge debate going on around the world on privacy getting affected by data being captured by Google, Uber, Facebook and so on.

China’s premier police authority, the Ministry of Public Security, has recently unveiled its draft law on legality of video surveillance and sought public opinion. The ability to view events and people on demand is a disruptive power and needs to be held responsibly.

Back home, responding to privacy concerns over installation of large number of CCTV cameras in every city, the Maharashtra state government has declared footage of those cameras be treated as classified document. This means video footage would not be available to public and cannot be obtained through even an RTI request. The state's home department has framed guidelines for installing and operation of CCTVs for the first time.

A notification in this regard has been issued which states, "Video data should be stored securely in a centralised location. It should be treated as a classified document. All video data from all cameras should be stored without any human intervention, either prior to viewing or while viewing,”. There is a toss-up between privacy and security and therefore this debate is not likely to be resolved soon.

There is a toss-up between privacy and security and therefore this debate is not likely to be resolved soon.

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