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CCTV cameras in schools: No longer an one-off occurrence anymore

Several State and district administration bodies are introducing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras surveillance in schools either as a result of a policy decision taken by authorities or in the garb of monitoring examinations. This comes at a time when experts have time and again warned against exposing children to such surveillance measures which can be misused by malicious actors.

MediaNama reviewed several tenders floated by various governmental bodies in the last few weeks and found that CCTV systems are being introduced in schools all over the country — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and so on. For instance, the Board of Secondary Education in Ajmer, Rajasthan floated a Rs 2 crore tender of installing CCTV cameras at examination centres for the Main Exam 2021.

The bid document states that CCTV is to be provided in approximately 300 exam centres “for live observation of activities of candidates and their recording in the examination centres on the day of examination”.

“The installation of CCTV cameras should be made at least one day in advance from the scheduled date of examination and CCTV cameras should be functional for one hour before the scheduled time of commencement of the examination and 30 minutes after the completion of the examination,” the tender said. Apart from this, 50 persons will be monitoring students from a control room to be set up by the project coordinator.

Uttarakhand amping up CCTV surveillance

The Udhamsinghnagar district administration in Uttarakhand recently proposed to establish CCTVs in government schools in the district. This follows a Uttarakhand government decision to introduce cameras in all government-run schools in the state in a bid to improve security standards.

Times of India quoted Mukul Kumar Sati, the state project director of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan saying, “We are planning to install the cameras mostly in co-ed schools and hostels for the safety of students. Schools with a lack of proper will also be added. The cameras will not be installed inside classrooms or hostel rooms of students.”

This what the Udhamsinghnagar district administration will install in their schools:

  • 4 MP Bullet Camera – 200
  • 4 MP Dome Camera – 600
  • 32″ LED Display Unit – 100

Gujarat introducing tech in schools

The Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which is responsible for the Dhuvaran Gas Based Power Station (DGBPS) in Anand district of Gujarat, recently floated a tender for supplying and commissioning of IP-based CCTV surveillance system at the Government Boys Primary School in Dhuvaran. The school serves as an affordable option for employees of DGBPS.

West Bengal not far behind

The Howrah Municipal Corporation a few months back proposed installing CCTVs at Howrah Urdu Girls High School. The estimated cost of the tender was around Rs 1.5 lakh, and no more details regarding the need for such technology at a school was provided by the municipal body. This also indicates that installation of CCTV cameras has become a commonplace occurrence in sensitive locations; and that concerns regarding privacy and the absence of personal data protection law in the country are ignored by such government bodies before taking a decision.

In 2019, the Delhi government encountered controversy when it proposed the introduction of an initiative that would let parents monitor kids on CCTVs. The matter went to the courts, although the Supreme Court refused to stay the government’s CCTV project.

Experts urge caution

Nakul Batra, Associate Partner at DSK Legal said, “What CCTV captures is certainly ‘personal data’ as the footage from CCTV reveals identity of a natural person. The PDP Bill under its Chapter IV, Section 16 considers any person who processes large volumes of personal data of children as ‘guardian data fiduciary’ who are subject to certain restrictions in collection and processing of children’s data (but still not akin to the greater compliance requirements to be met by ‘significant data fiduciary under the Bill). Schools are likely to fall under this categorisation of ‘guardian data fiduciary’.

For collection and processing of personal data pertaining to children, PDP Bill prescribes that the same must be in the best interest of the children, and how and from whom the consent must be obtained (parents and guardians). Undeniably, CCTVs surveillance has become a means to monitor health and safety, and to prevent any abuse or crime, and therefore the usage of CCTV in schools can be purposefully viewed in the best interest of children in terms of Section 16(1) of the PDP Bill — Nakul Batra, Associate Partner at DSK Legal

Shweta Mohandas, a policy officer at Centre for Internet and Society said, “The continuous monitoring of children at school creates a number of privacy and data protection concerns. In terms of privacy the notion that they are being watched all the time and in terms of data protection is the concerns around how this data will be processed and what decisions will be made by the schools based on this data, are a few of the many concerns. For educational institutions, they need to understand the policies of the vendor they are purchasing this device or software from and audit how this company stores, processes, retains, uses, and shares this data.”

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