Activists worried street cameras could be used to spy on citizens

The installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in Bulawayo by a vehicle parking management system company, Tendy Three Investments (Pty) Ltd has been described as a good move to curb crime but activists are worried the government will use them to spy on citizens.

In partnership with the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), Tendy Three will implement a US$2.2 million parking system that is meant to decongest the city’s roads, place parking terminals and install CCTV among other services.

“In addition to employment and financial benefits, we are putting CCTV surveillance. We are aware of the crime rates which we have in the city. I think in partnership with the  Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), they would love this programme,” said the company’s Operations Manager, Lizwe Mabuza at a stakeholder meeting at the Large City Hall Friday that was also attended by members of the uniformed forces.

“They (police) would be able to come in and download the footage of various occurrences within the city to see what happened where. They would be able to see all those elements, it’s an added advantage which the city will benefit from as well.”

Mabuza added apart from installing CCTV, parking marshals would be trained to act as an extra eye for security purposes.

“Parking marshals have to be very competent as far as gathering intel on where they are operating. They need to be able to tell us ‘we have a car jamming person around because we know him’ and report to the control room. They need to be able to say, ‘we have someone who steals from people on 10th Avenue,’” he said.

“This is what we are benefitting from where we are working. Parking marshals are able to report to say, ‘we have thieves now, they have arrived. We know that a car is parked at such and such a bay’ and we are able to spring to action. In essence, we are bringing a couple of security officers, although they are not security officers, to play that extra surveillance role as well.”

In an interview with CITE, Bulawayo spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube noted the CCTV was advantageous, as the cameras would ‘greatly’ help police fight crime.

“We appreciate the effort by BCC and other stakeholders. We highly believe the lighting and CCTV is going to be of great help in curbing crime. The theft of motor vehicles will be caught, apart from parking errors this is going to be good for policing and crime prevention,” he said.

However, activists believe the government which has used force to clamp down on civil liberties could use the cameras for ulterior motives.

“Putting on CCTV in the city, particularly to check for crime and curb those who don’t pass the monitoring system is not a very bad idea, especially in the public’s interest to say criminals can be easily traced,” said Human Rights activist, Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda.

“If our laws were properly applied it would help a lot but unfortunately one of our biggest fears is that the cameras would be used for surveillance by Central Intelligence Officers.”

Dr Sibanda said footage from the CCTV may be used to target individuals especially members of the opposition.

“That would be very unfortunate. Strict reliance on CCTV for a country which is so dependent on the use of spooks and victimising people can be a very dangerous loophole. Therefore, it’s not advisable to trust and depend on promises that the government will not access that CCTV footage for other means, as people’s lives will be greatly in danger as a result,” he said.

ZAPU Southern Region Communications Director, Patrick Ndlovu, concurred that in ‘normal’ countries with functional democracies the installation of these cameras would be welcome but the threat of spying on people was real.

“We welcome these cameras because of the ballooning crime in the city. But we are worried about the potential abuse of the technology to persecute and repress expression rights of activists,” he noted.

MDC Alliance Bulawayo Provincial Spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza, said the technology must not be used to invade citizens’ constitutionally enshrined privacy rights.

“We know full well that since the November 2017 coup, China has increasingly exerted its influence in Zimbabwe including the tax-free extraction of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. China has 200 million surveillance cameras on its streets and is reputed for its total surveillance,” he alleged.

“We also know that Big Brother often uses legitimate reasons such as health and curbing crime among other pretexts to invade the privacy of citizens. We pray that installing CCTVs to monitor vehicles that do not pay parking fees will not become another excuse by Big Brother.”

ZPRA Veterans Association Secretary-General, Petros Sibanda chipped in to say it would be bad to harass citizens using technology meant to capture criminals.

“We hope the security will not use CCTV indirectly to capture demonstrators and activists or infringe on the rights of people we fought so hard for. If law enforcers were serving their work well, there would be no need to substitute them with CCTV,” he said.

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