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Delhi HC: Parents and teachers file petition against installation of CCTV cameras in classrooms

The Delhi Parents Association and the Government School Teachers’ Association have filed a petition in the Delhi High Court demanding that the Delhi government orders to install CCTV cameras in government school classrooms be revoked, arguing that the move violates the right to privacy of the students and teachers, and fails the tests laid down in the Right to Privacy judgement. The petition says that CCTV cameras should only be installed in free, public and vulnerable areas of the school, such as school corridors and playgrounds, without invading the “zone of privacy” students and teachers are entitled to. MediaNama has seen a copy of the petition.

The Delhi government started installing CCTV cameras inside classrooms on July 6, 2019, to enhance the security of students. Under the project, two cameras will be installed in each classroom, and the entire school premises, except loos, will be under surveillance. The live feed will be monitored from a control room. Parents of children will be provided live feeds of classrooms through a mobile app, DGS Live. The CCTV footage is mute, and is available to parents for 15 minutes, thrice a day.

The petition argues that the live feed is a further violation of privacy as it does not take specific consent. Also, harms of live-streaming such as threats of cyber-bullying, child pornography, morphed videos, etc., and their subsequent dissemination on social media and internet have not been considered. The lack of security infrastructure for adequate collection and storage of data is also concerning. Cross-sharing classroom footage with other parents and “inevitably” with unauthorised third persons is unacceptable.

A division bench constituting Chief Justice D. N. Patel and Justice C. Hari Shankar was to hear the matter [W.P. (C) 2105/2020] on February 25, but the bench did not assemble. The next hearing is on March 30, when a similar petition, Daniel George vs Government of Delhi [WP (C) 7083/2018], will be heard. It is not clear if the two petitions will be heard together. Another writ petition [W.P. (C) 570/2019] was filed in the Supreme Court in 2019 on behalf of female students, but that was dismissed in July 2019.

Petitioner’s arguments

  1. Installation of CCTV cameras is a violation of right to privacy: Without the specific consent of either the students or their parents and teachers, the installation of CCTV cameras is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy as held in the Puttaswamy judgement. The consent in this case must be “informed, specific and thus cannot be a one-time broad-based and all-encompassing parental authorization”. Students and teachers are entitled to privacy in the classroom as the Supreme Court had specifically highlighted privacy concerns of children’s data and the legitimate expectation of solitude in an educational setting.
  2. Chilling effect on interactions with students due to constant scrutiny and surveillance.
  3. Teachers’ right to be treated equally is violated: By subjecting teachers to such surveillance, they are not at par with other government servants. Also, under Article 21, their dignity must be preserved.
  4. Absence of a data protection regime or any other statutory/regulatory framework means that the collection and storage of children’s data is dangerous and violative of the right to privacy. There are also no means of redressal for citizens or any obligation for reporting data breaches upon the “data custodians”.
  5. No research or stakeholder consultation: On September 11, 2017, the Delhi Government abruptly took the decision to install CCTV cameras inside classrooms and disseminate the video feed. It did not consult any child psychiatrists and psychologists, or parents, or teachers. Concerns of privacy that were raised by the Directorate of Education in a December 11 meeting were arbitrarily overruled.
  6. No state interest established: The Delhi government needs to establish “compelling State interest” in the installation of CCTV cameras, as per the Puttaswamy judgement. An affidavit submitted to the Delhi HC by the government of Delhi cited vandalism, teacher absenteeism and stray incidents of violence as the reasons for installation of CCTV cameras. The petitioners have argued that such concerns are “symptomatic in most Government Departments of the Respondent” but now surveillance systems have been installed there.
  7. Disproportionate response as security concerns can be met at the entrance: Citing Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association vs State of Maharashtra [WP (C) 576/2016], where the Bombay High Court held that performers and visitors at bar dance establishments were entitles to privacy without the imposition of CCTV cameras, the HC held that concerns of security “can be adequately met at the entrance” making the complete surveillance of activities inside the premises “excessive and disproportionate”.

Read more: Dear Delhi government, CCTV cameras inside classrooms are a bad idea

What they want

  • Quash two Cabinet decisions dated September 11, 2017 and December 11, 2017 passed by the government of Delhi for installation of CCTV cameras inside government school classrooms and the subsequent live-streaming of such video footage to third persons
  • Quash two orders issued by the Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi, dated November 18, 2019, authorising the installation of CCTV cameras.
  • The Delhi Government can install cameras in free, public and vulnerable areas of the school, such as school corridors and playgrounds, without invading the “zone of privacy” students and teachers are entitled to.

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