Surveillance, security and privacy.


Byline: Akbar Nasir Khan

It is dangerous to speak straight since the times of Aristotle and even earlier. Conversely, availability of social, electronic, print and web media has made it easy to express their opinion by writers, at times with incomplete information and even at the cost of reputation of the others. It becomes even more convenient if it is committed under the license of the right of speech, protection of rights or accountability. This trend is bolstered by lack of any repercussions for any wrong, malafide and ill-informed opinion. Case in point is some views shared in the newspapers that public authorities are responsible for wrongdoings of few individuals in the Balochistan University and effectiveness of safe cities system for tracking the unlawful activities of protestors on Mall Road or Punjab Cardiology Institute through surveillance.

Surveillance in today's world is too broad a term and needs specific references. Here we are talking about only surveillance through cameras by the law enforcement agencies. There is a broad-based consensus in democratic societies that surveillance through cameras has a trade-off between security and privacy. Most of the societies have made a preference for security at the cost of some privacy in public places. However, three major reasonable limits are imposed: First, hidden surveillance of the general public is not acceptable in democratic societies like the UK, USA and others. Second, it is also an accepted norm that data obtained through surveillance is neither public data nor will it be shared without a lawful process. Third, the protection of this data shall be ensured, and it cannot be kept for an unlimited time. Crossing these limits warrants for necessary and proportionate action by the administrators of the systems. And, of course, all this process is open to lawful scrutiny and accountability by the courts of law.

When PSCA started functioning in 2015, it started working on all three aspects and even more. The first step was to address the admissibility of evidence collected through the surveillance set up of PSCA. It was achieved in 2017 with the amendment of Section 164 in the Qanoon-e- Shahadat Act of 1984. This allowed the admissibility of evidence collected through modern devices as per the discretion of the court. Second, all locations of cameras installed by PSCA in Lahore are marked as Safe City Spots. Third, there is also a defined process to share data with lawful...

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