Wednesday, June 19, 2024

You can run but you can’t hide

Botswana Police Services (BPS) has resolved to expand their video surveillance project to cover the capital Gaborone and the second city of Francistown.

Dubbed the safer city project, the video surveillance program is characterized by the use of closed-circuit television CCTV which have been installed in the two cities.

The BPS has justified the move by saying that it will help them identify criminals, fight crime and make the country safer for its citizens and a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment and tourism. 

But critics, including law experts have slammed the three year old project saying that there are no legal provisions to cater for its establishment.  

If critics who include University of Botswana Law Professor, Tachilisa Balule are right, this means that for the past three years the government and the BPS have been illegally operating the Chinese powered safer city project.

This further means that the planned expansion to cover more areas is in fact an expansion of illegality as long as parliament has not enacted the enabling legislation.

The Safer City Project surveillance cameras installed by China’s Huawei Technologies Botswana, in the countries’ two major cities, currently has 650 operational cameras in Gaborone and 524 in Francistown, according to BPS spokesperson, Dipheko Motube. 

The surveillance cameras are said to be of international standards, as they have high definition cameras to capture scenes especially at intersections and traffic lights along busy roads and highways.

Expansion

According to parliamentary documents obtained by this publication, the safer city project is now set for expansion. 

“As a means to reinforce police visibility, the cities of Gaborone and Francistown are under real-time surveillance since the year 2021 and this capability will be continually expanded.” Read part of the document.

Although the documents do not explicitly say areas to where it is expanding, this publication followed up by contacting the police spokesperson who shed more light on the project. 

Motube said they will expand their already existing safer city surveillance cameras in Gaborone and Francistown. 

According to Motube there are currently 650 surveillance cameras in Gaborone covering major roads that are running through the capital city like Nelson Mandela road, Kudumatse, Tlokweng and Molepolole road. These are roads that used to be hotspots where criminals would prey on motorists by traffic lights. They would smash and grab their vehicles in an effort to steal any valuable possessions and sometimes even their cars, according to the police spokesperson. 

Motube indicated that for the government to introduce the safer city project there were about 14 major hotspots in Gaborone and they needed help where police could not physically be present at all times. 

He said surveillance cameras help them in reactive and proactive policing. He explained that they are reactive in a sense that they are monitoring them at police headquarters and if they see someone who looks suspicious they are able to apprehend them before any crime can be committed. 

Motube indicated that all this is supported by human resources, their patrols both on foot and in cars.

He said the expansion of Gaborone CCTV surveillance will see 1350 cameras being installed in addition to the already existing 650 cameras to cover Greater Gaborone areas like Tlokweng, Gabane and Metsimotlhabe. In total this will mean 2000 surveillance cameras in Gaborone and its surrounding areas. 

With an estimated population of about 244,107 people living in Gaborone, statistically this means that there will be one camera per 122 people.

Motube said in Francistown they will be putting an additional 450 surveillance cameras to the already existing 524. This adds up to a total of 974 CCTV surveillance. With an estimated population of about 102,444 people living in the second largest city, statistically this means there will be one camera per 105 people.

Benefits

The Police spokesperson said that they have seen a reduction of crime where video surveillance cameras have been installed. But this doesn’t mean an overall crime reduction in Botswana, in fact by his own admission, Motube said criminals have migrated to areas where there are no cameras, hence why they want to expand CCTV surveillance. This is why there are efforts to increase the safer city project.

He said crime displacement is a problem as criminals have now migrated to areas outside camera coverage, which is the main reason the government has embarked on safer city expansion. 

Motube said there are no statistics to show that crime has reduced due to the installation of safer city surveillance cameras. He however highlighted that crime in the hotspots has reduced drastically which is evidence enough that safer city cameras work. 

“Criminal activity within camera coverage has significantly dropped and this is evidenced by drastic change in crime patterns.”

He added that criminals have moved their activities to the doorsteps of innocent people in the peripheries of Gaborone.

The BPS spokesperson disclosed that they anticipated this and that is the reason they are expanding the CCTV surveillance to cover the whole city. “We are busy expanding to cover other areas, we do not know where this project will stop.”

Motube said ultimately the whole greater Gaborone will be covered with cameras, adding that if criminals move to other areas they will find them because this technology is ongoing. 

“These are developments that are ongoing. You will find that what criminals are stealing in the city is not there in towns or rural areas hence we believe they will eventually stop.”

He wasn’t in a place to say when the extra surveillance cameras will start being operational as the project is still ongoing. 

Motube also noted that the other challenge he sees with surveillance cameras is the way some people view them.

He indicated that there are opinions from some people that believe these cameras may intrude their privacy. 

Motube said he thinks they are not looking at the bigger picture because he is of the view that they need to change their mindset and how they look at things, adding that otherwise they will find themselves stuck in the 70s because of fear of the unknown.

“Technology is here and we must embrace it and develop ourselves.” Motube called on people to have trust in the law enforcement because these cameras are also important to them. 

“Criminals have taken the war right to the doorsteps of innocent people, they have stopped waiting for people at traffic lights and gone to their homes, and they steal and kill.”

Motube noted that in some states in America it shows that some of these law enforcement structures have been in place for a long time and have changed the way people do things and have become embedded in their cultures. 

“In America there are no barrier walls and butler doors because this technology is everywhere, you cannot take a chance.”

Motube believes people will get used to this and forget that they believed it could invade their privacy. 

He added that ultimately this will change the way Batswana live and how they do things and maybe not even build walls around their yards because there is no crime. 

Illegal 

According to the police spokesperson Section 5 (1) of the Electronic Records Evidence Act, 2014 allows for the use of video surveillance. 

“Nothing in the rules of evidence shall apply to deny the admissibility of an electronic record in evidence on the sole ground that it is an electronic record.”

However his claims that this operation is legal has been disputed by law experts including Professor Balule. 

In his recently published critique of the safer city surveillance, Professor Balule argued that there is no law to support the safer city project hence the surveillance is illegal. 

“The public space surveillance conducted under the BPS’ safe city project is not done under any specific legislation.”

Not only is it illegal according to Professor Balule, the project also undermines citizens’ rights to privacy. 

“Public space surveillance through video cameras constitutes an interference with the right to privacy even if their use may be serving a legitimate purpose. The use of video surveillance cameras must therefore be in full compliance with the protection of privacy under the Constitution.”

In a follow up interview with this publication the UB Associate Professor said there is no provision allowing police to use surveillance cameras in the Electronic Records Evidence Act of 2014.  He explained that the Act provides for the admissibility of electronic records as evidence in legal proceedings and authentication of records. 

Mmapula Molapong is a journalist investigating digital surveillance with support from the Media Policy & Democracy Project (MPDP), under the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Communication and Media.

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