Published: 13th January 2023
Privacy vs Safety: High Court Weighs in on CCTV camera controversy in Delhi government schools
The court deemed two petitions opposing the installation of cameras over privacy concerns as "premature" and said it will address the matter once the SOP is established
The Delhi High Court on Friday, January 13, ordered the city government to submit a Standard Operating Procedure for the installation of CCTV cameras in government school classrooms, citing the importance of the cameras for the safety of children. The court deemed two petitions opposing the installation of cameras over privacy concerns as "premature" and said it will address the matter once the SOP is established.
"It is premature as of today. As soon as the SOP is drawn up, we will see," a bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said.
The High Court has listed the matter for further hearing on July 18. As the counsel for the petitioners submitted that classrooms are a safe space for children and no consent has been taken from parents for installing cameras, the bench said, "Why do you think that the state is insensitive? It is at a nascent stage. It is still under consideration."
Advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai, representing petitioners Daniel George and Delhi Parents Association, said cameras need to be there in schools in some places but not in classrooms as it concerns the privacy of students and the preservation of their dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. He said the installation of CCTV cameras inside classrooms may have a grave psychological impact on children and no psychological analysis has been done by the authorities on this "vulnerable group," reported PTI. The counsel claimed the Delhi government will be live streaming the data to third parties which means data will be shared with other parents.
However, the bench said the circulars of the Delhi government only mention the words 'online access' which is different from 'live streaming'. Earlier, the Delhi government had opposed the pleas challenging its decision to install CCTV cameras in classrooms, saying the right to privacy is not absolute and the system will ensure the safety of children.
The Delhi government counsel had told the bench that not only has the Supreme Court rejected a similar petition before it but there has been no complaint to the authorities by parents against such installation in their children's classrooms. Not a single complaint was addressed by any parent of any student studying in these schools.
The government counsel informed the court that there are 728 government schools in which it was proposed for the cameras to be installed, and the cameras had already been installed and were functioning in 601 schools for the past three years.
The government had filed an affidavit in response to the petitions and clarified that the decision was not a knee-jerk reaction to the reports of sexual abuse in September 2017 and that it was under deliberation for more than 2 years. It said the installation of cameras does not infringe upon the right to privacy, and that one of the major factors for the installation of CCTV cameras in classrooms has been to ensure the safety and security of children studying in schools.
"In light of the incidents of sexual abuse and bullying becoming rampant in classrooms, the ineffectiveness of other measures to check and control such incidents had required the government to think of alternative solutions, for which purpose, the pilot project of installation of CCTV cameras in classrooms was envisaged by the government, the short affidavit by the Delhi government had said.
In 2018, petitioner Daniel George moved the high court saying it was not healthy to have cameras inside classrooms and that the constant scrutiny by cameras would have a psychological impact on the children apart from raising concerns of voyeurism and stalking, reported PTI. The petitioner, who claimed to be involved in the field of education awareness, has sought a feasibility test amongst the target population of students and teachers to understand the issues they face when it comes to surveillance. Subsequently, a petition was also filed by Delhi Parents Association which sought quashing of the decision to install CCTV cameras as well as directions to remove those already installed in classrooms.