Chinese Authorities Review Privacy Issues on CCTV

With 265,000 cameras now in Beijing, public concerns prompt privacy reviews


Beijing's public security bureau said recently it would undertake a thorough check of the use of closed-circuit TV cameras in the city to ensure people's rights and privacy are properly protected.

The move comes after a number of complaints from members of the public who say their privacy is being invaded by the cameras.

Chu Jing, the bureau's head, said surveillance cameras are permitted only in designated areas and that no one has the right to use or distribute the information or images captured by them.

"Any company or bureau that breaks the rules will be fined up to 30,000 yuan ($4,000)," Chu said.

Security cameras have become more prevalent in the capital since the introduction of a new regulation last year.

In a bid to ensure public security and prevent possible terrorist attacks during the Olympics, the Beijing government approved a ruling that said, "major and busy public places, government bureaus, traffic centers and main infrastructure areas should install image information system cameras to monitor and ensure public security".

The city now has about 265,000 such cameras, according to figures from the public security bureau.

For local storekeepers the cameras are a major plus.

Zhang Jiang, the manager of a convenience store, said: "The surveillance camera system is a great benefit, as we now need to employ only one guard to safeguard our goods." But not everyone is so impressed.

Wang Yu, who works in a bank in Beijing, said: "I feel like Will Smith in Enemy of the State. All day long, I live in the gaze of surveillance cameras, from my desk to the elevator, and even at the shopping mall." In recent years, closed-circuit television cameras have become commonplace in the country's urban centers.

In South China's Guangzhou, for example, some 130,000 cameras will be installed by the end of the year.

Similarly, in Northeast China's Shenyang, most of the city's 17,000 taxis have had cameras installed to prevent theft and protect drivers.

Professor Wang Weiguo from the China University of Political Science and Law supported the announcement by the Beijing security bureau.

"The regulation should set legal boundaries on the use of information collected by the cameras to ensure the protection of people's privacy," he said.

He said the government should introduce firm measures to deter possible abuse of the cameras.

(China Daily -- 07/05/07)