Vumacam: Can they strike a balance between privacy and crime-fighting?

13th August 2020 ,

Concerns around Vumacam’s balance between privacy and crime-fighting have always been a hot topic of discussion.

Vumacam offers CCTV deployment and surveillance technology, and their network of pole-mounted street cameras have been helping law enforcement and security companies to fight crime. The cameras flag unusual behaviour and licence plates of vehicles that have previously been linked to a crime.

To help better understand how the technological firm operates, Vumacam CEO Ricky Croock sat down with digital media law expert Emma Sadleir and corporate advisor James McCormack in a webinar on 4 August.  According to Croock, Vumacam is only interested in understanding situational awareness and what may be happening outside of the ordinary in a particular area. “We then give it [the information] to the various security companies who can then validate it, assess if they need to dispatch a vehicle or not,” he said.

Croock added that this was not a new concept but it was something that he wished was available many years ago when he was at the other end of the spectrum, protecting communities and working with residents’ associations. McCormack noted that Vumacam had framed its policies and operations in line with the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popi Act). The technology did not utilise any facial recognition software and as such had not violated any laws in the Popi Act.

The primary issue that Vumacam had experienced was not necessarily around the technology itself, but the challenges regarding one’s privacy. According to Sadleir, privacy comes down to expectations.

“Over the last few decades the law has come up with a common law test for privacy which says that if I can show that I have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a particular set of circumstances and somebody infringes on it, I can sue them,” she said.

She added that the expectation of privacy could also change based on the circumstances and when dealing with this there were two defences, consent and public interest. “In the case of Vumacam, when infringing on the privacy of criminals there is a huge public interest override.” The network has thus continued to expand, allowing the company to scan the movement of suspects in and out of communities. “As connectivity improves the ecosystem will grow, allowing the security companies, Joburg Metro Police Department and the South African Police Service [SAPS] to fight the same fight,” said Croock.

SAPS provincial spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters confirmed that the police service had relied on CCTV footage in several occurrences. “We collaborate with a variety of private entities or individuals who usually come forward in response to our calls to the public to assist with information that could assist in the investigation of crimes,” she said.

It has also proven to be helpful in many residential areas. The Parkmore Residents Association in Sandton implemented Vumacam’s CCTV solutions last year at all of the gated community’s entrances and exits.

“I think we have had two [recent] hits of positive arrests where the CCTV solution has worked. However, I was hoping it would’ve been far more reaching and many more vehicles caught,” said the suburb’s manager Lori Klein.

Sadleir added that even though the law continued to play catch up when it came to communication technology, there have been a number of developments. “Today we essentially treat online and digital content as we would public content in any space. What I say on Facebook will be treated the same way as if I had written it in a newspaper or on a poster,” she said.

“The principals are there and they are good but it is a question of how are we going to apply these very old laws to these very new ways of communicating and living.”

Source: Sandton Chronicle