Mumbai’s Western Railways department seems eager to boast of its CCTV camera system with facial recognition and heat-mapping but not so eager to answer questions about this surveillance. A few weeks ago, MediaNama sent Mumbai’s Western Railways department questions about the CCTV’s functioning and security of the data collected by the cameras set up at every entry point of the railway stations. However, their responses were less than helpful in addressing these concerns.
Where it all began: In November 2022, the Hindustan Times reported how the Western Railways’ new surveillance network had curbed crimes against passengers and helped identify missing persons. The officials in the report claimed that theft, robbery and similar petty crimes had lessened since the cameras had been set up. Further, the cameras even notified authorities of people gathering in one place to prevent crowding.
Considering the sheer number of people whose biometrics would be collected by Railways for such reasons, MediaNama asked the department about the CCTVs’ data retention and security measures. To our surprise, the Railways responded these queries with vague responses that it is following guidelines as given by the “Railway board and RDSO.”
Why it matters: Railways are considered Mumbai’s lifeline. The 2006 Mumbai bomb blasts particularly highlighted how sensitive and integral trains have become for India’s financial capital. The idea that AI-based technology will now be used to reduce crimes in these regions is a welcome notion. However, this does not dismiss concerns about privacy and data protection. It is concerning that the Railways is unable to provide a satisfactory response regarding the duration of data retention or even the security measures taken to ensure the data remains safe.
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Railways say data stored in cameras? Another confusing response from the Railways has been regarding the storage of the CCTV footage. As per the Western Railway department’s response, the cameras and network video recorders “are capable of storing the data.” So then how are the police accessing the footage and identifying missing persons or alleged thieves? The footage would have to be uploaded on a server or a similar storage system. Is the general public not entitled to know these details?
No data on CCTV efficacy: The aforementioned Hindustan Times report claimed the new surveillance mechanism had reduced or resolved issues of crimes at the railway stations. As such, MediaNama asked for the number of thefts prevented/ resolved and the number of missing people found between July 2022 and November 2022 using the technology. However, Western Railways said its department does not maintain such information. So, how did it have the confidence to make claims about reduced crime?
Moreover, we asked for the tender requiring the supply, installation and implementation of this system in western railways. To this, the Railways only said, “It is done as per the latest RDSO guidelines.”
The department’s vague responses have left many questions unanswered. MediaNama is filing a first appeal to the department asking for more detailed answers to the questions. However, concerns remain that the Railways is plodding on with this system without enough safeguards.
Motormen soon to be under CCTV watch: After CCTVs at stations, Mumbai Live reported Western Railways’ next plan is to set up CCTV cameras in motormen cabins of 112 local trains. As per the report, this will be done between February 2023 and June 2023 to prevent any accidents, speed limit violations, etc. This is despite the report itself stating that such incidents do not happen often.
Workplace surveillance experts have told MediaNama that while there is no confirmed positive relation between employee productivity and surveillance, such monitoring does discourage employee agency.
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