Policing or Protection: Parents Ponder as SC Refuses to Stay Delhi Govt’s School CCTV Project

The petition, by National Law University student Amber Tickoo stated that the move would violate students' fundamental right to privacy.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a plea to stop the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Delhi government school classrooms and the live streaming of footage to parents.

The petition, by National Law University student Amber Tickoo stated that the move would violate students’ fundamental right to privacy and jeopardise the safety and security of the very children it seeks to protect. It also cautioned that streaming footage of girl students and female teachers could lead to “stalking and voyeurism.”

The petition also claimed that the scheme lacked adequate safety measures for stored recording and warned that unless the data was secure, it would be prone to hacking. The plea, therefore, sought a stay on the September 11, 2017, decision of the Delhi government in the matter. However, a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose refused the stay.

Concerns raised earlier too

Concerns regarding the move were being raised from the time when it was first announced. In January, 2018, when Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was reviewing the progress of the project, several academics and lawyers had questioned it as well.

Talking to The Wire, Meeta Rai, who has been a school administrator for more than 40 years, noted that cameras should ideally only be restricted to the corridors and common areas and not cover the classrooms. “They will burden the teachers. Constant monitoring can turn them into nervous wrecks,” she had said.

If cameras must be installed in classes, then they should be done in a way that allows only the faces of the children to be captured, as “that is enough to convey how the classes are being conducted,” Rai had held.

A lawyer, Apar, had warned that live streaming from classes would result in “policing of children” and impact their “moral choices and behaviour” as well. “It will condition children into becoming fearful clients not full individuals,” he had said.

The concern over constant surveillance was something YouTuber Dhruv Rathee commented upon as well. Back when the move was announced, he had called it a “dystopian nightmare”, adding, “Constant fear in children will hamper their development.”

Move could stop crimes, says govt

While announcing the measure, the Delhi government spoke about how it was necessitated by the rising incidents of crimes against children in school. It cited the murder of a seven-year-old student by a 16-year-old at Ryan International School in neighbouring Gurugram in Haryana, and the sexual assault on a four-year-old girl in a Dwarka school.

Also read: Ryan International School Case Highlights All the Things Schools Aren’t Doing

The government also said that the new system would “ensure safety of kids” and make the system transparent.

Despite concerns around the move, the Delhi government went ahead with it. Last year, a pilot project was carried out in five schools in north Delhi. During the pilot, the footage was, however, not live streamed to parents.

Then too, teachers had expressed misgivings, says Akshay Marathe, a member of the Delhi government’s Dialogue and Development Commission (DDC) task force on school education. “They were concerned about the cameras in the classes, but adjusted to them soon and their fears were allayed,” he tells The Wire.

Representational image of students in a school. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Launching the CCTV project on July 6, at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Lajpat Nagar, Kejriwal assured that there would be no privacy breach. “Children go to school for education, to learn discipline and become good citizens of the country… they do not go there for anything private,” he added.

1.2 lakh cameras to be installed 

The project, it was announced, would cover 200 schools by the end of July end and all the 1,041 Delhi government schools by November this year. At a cost of Rs 600 crore, as many as 1.2 lakh cameras will be installed across schools – two in every classroom.

Parents can receive live feed from CCTV cameras in their wards’ classes through the ‘DGS Live’ app, which can be downloaded from Google Play Store. On downloading the app, they will receive an SMS from the government control room and then upon verification, they will be able to access the feed.

Between safety and artificial behaviour

Following the inauguration of the project, parents of children studying in the Lajpat Nagar school where Kejriwal unveiled the project, lauded the move. One of them said they felt relieved that their child would be safe, thanks to the fact that they could watch the feed whenever they wanted to, on the phone. Another spoke of how the move would prevent injuries in class fights.

Also read: Kejriwal’s Move to Install CCTV in Classrooms Raises Concerns About Impact of Surveillance

Some, of course, expressed concern. Santram, an office-bearer of the Delhi Government School Teachers Association, wondered if the installation of cameras would make students and teachers “behave artificially”.

A member of the Delhi Parents Association, Harish Mehra, was apprehensive of what would happen if parents were tricked by others to share the password for the feed.

‘Opportunity to excel’

Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia has called these issues “hypothetical” and said no one would see anything but “40 kids studying” on the live feed.

DDC member Marathe, who is also an AAP spokesperson, has written that there are many benefits of parents being able to access their kids’ CCTV feed. He said it would help curb “bullying, corporal punishment, inadequate attention spans, teacher absenteeism and even student truancy.”

Marathe said this in response to sociologist Sanjay Srivastava, who in a column in a national daily asked if the installation of CCTVs in classrooms amounted to “pervasive surveillance”.

Marathe also tells The Wire that children and teachers who were consulted about the project before its launch did not express any discomfort. “As far as the issue of the scheme impacting the relationship of boy and girl students is concerned, there is not much at stake as only 5% of the schools are co-educational,” he says.

In fact, he says, the project empowers parents as it ensures that their children get good education in a secure environment. “Moreover, we should not forget that most students coming to government schools are not from very rich backgrounds. They do not have parents with very deep pockets to support them if they do not do well educationally. So this project provides them with an opportunity to avail themselves of the best services and excel,” he adds.