Privacy breach fears loom over Punjab Safe City Project | Pakistan Today

Privacy breach fears loom over Punjab Safe City Project

  • Digital rights activist says no policy in place to ensure protection of citizens’ data

  • PSCA officials say data ‘absolutely secure’ per global security standards

LAHORE: People and digital rights activists have criticised the Punjab Safe City Project for not having a significant impact on reducing crime rate and violating fundamental human right to privacy, however, the Authority insists that its data is protected and there’s no threat of breach of citizens’ privacy.

Under the Punjab government’s Safe City Project, 8,000 Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras were installed in different areas of Lahore. The project, which amounted to Rs12 billion, was signed in partnership with the Chinese firm Huawei. By digitising police operations, the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) aimed to develop a “new police culture”.

Speaking to Pakistan Today, digital rights activist and Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) founder Nighat Dad said that although the project is considered as a solution to curb crime in the city, yet there are no policies in place to ensure protection of data gained through digital sources.

However, officials of PSCA refute the claim, emphasising that the data gained through the project is protected.

Talking to Pakistan Today, PSCA Spokesman Tayyab Sattar said, “We only give out our data to investigation officers (IO) in case of criminal investigations after an FIR [First Information Report] is registered with the relevant police station.”

“Punjab Safe City is a national security project and its data is absolutely secure as per globally followed standards,” he emphasised.

He stressed that the aim of the project is to ensure the safety of citizens while maintaining the respect for privacy.

“The name of the officer receiving the data on a DVD, the time and data of the information handling are stored on record,” he added.

The authority also issued a statement, saying, “all our 8,000 cameras are installed on main roads, markets, important installations and routes with a specific focus of securing the city.”

‘PSCA MANDATE’:

Responding to a question pertaining to correlation of the project with the witness protection programme, PSCA Manager Communications Tauseef Sabih said that PSCA is only responsible for supporting law enforcement agencies.

“Witness protection is not the responsibility of PSCA, it falls under the mandate of Lahore Police,” he stressed.

However, a report published by DRF claimed that the PSCA “actively” acts beyond its mandate as it monitors social media accounts for blasphemous content and terrorist activity. The report further states that the responsibility for cybercrime and social media monitoring legally falls under the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

Tauseef Sabih told Pakistan Today that reporting cybercrime is a “civil responsibility”.

“PSCA has been authorised by the Punjab Home Department to monitor and report suspicious accounts; however, we do not block them,” he added.

‘SAFE CITY APP CATERS TO UPPER MIDDLE CLASS’:

Talking about a ‘Safe City’ application, which was aimed at providing security to women in public spaces, Nighat Dad said, “The app is not inclusive as it caters to a literate and upper-middle class audience.”

That urban monitoring carries with it the risk of discrimination, a concern that can only be addressed through countervailing measures of accountability and public consultation, she added.

However, a PSCA representative said, “The app can be used by any android user. Those who cannot access the app for some reason can call the helpline to register a case.”

‘SECURITY OVER PRIVACY’:

Residents of Lahore gave conflicting responses when asked if they felt that CCTV cameras were a good security measure.

Joshua, a student at Government College University, said that he felt CCTV cameras violated privacy.

Another student, Alina, said that CCTV cameras made her feel more secure as the CCTV cameras often proved to be crime deterrents and in a country like Pakistan with an insecure political climate.

“I would sacrifice my privacy for security,” she stressed.



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