Privacy gone with surveillance cameras
Two customers in a public bath lounge are seen in this image captured from video footage of a surveillance camera.
/ Courtesy of the National Human Rights Commission
By Park Si-soo
Touted as a tool to solve crimes and prevent future ones, virtually omnipresent surveillance cameras in public places are posing a grave threat to privacy, leaving even places such as communal baths exposed.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) inspected major streets, subway stations, schools, stores and other public facilities to determine how often a person is being monitored by cameras while going about routine daily life.
Its results released Tuesday were stunning ― a normal citizen is caught on closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras 83.1 times on average each day.
In an extreme case, a college student, who joined the survey, was caught on 110 surveillance cameras during a four-hour trip to a shopping mall in southern Seoul from her home. The student was spotted by a camera every nine seconds while walking through a surveillance camera-dense area, the results showed.
Another surveyor was caught on camera 20 times while passing through a 511-meter-long road from a subway station to his house in Nakseongdae in southern Seoul, a distance that can be covered in just three minutes on foot, also equaling being spotted every nine seconds.
“People’s privacy is at a greater risk due to an accelerating presence of surveillance cameras,” the NHRC said in a statement. “In bustling areas it’s hard to find places beyond the monitoring coverage.”
It said privacy violations are serious in public baths.
A total of 301 public bathtubs out of 420 inspected had monitoring cameras in places where people rest, wash and chat sometimes entirely naked. It found nearly 38 percent of them installed cameras without any written signs, which is illegal.
Under the law governing the use of surveillance cameras in public baths, cameras are allowed to monitor the entry of a lounge leading to the bathing area. Also, public bath operators are mandated to inform users of the monitoring by hanging a written sign in a prominent spot.
“Such devices covering bath areas and lounges have played a key role in curbing theft and other minor crimes. But the security comes at the cost of possible privacy violation,” said Min Young-sik, a human right activist.
The government estimates around 4 million surveillance cameras are being used across the country for security purposes.
Over the past two years, the demand for surveillance has explosively increased amid concerns over heinous crimes in less populated places.
Last October, Seoul National University launched a crime-free campaign, with the number of surveillance cameras in its campus reaching nearly 1,000. The school is considering installing more.
Critics say the absence of law or legal-binding guidelines detailing the use of monitoring cameras in public places is a problem that should be tackled as early as possible.
In 2008, Rep. Byeon Jae-il of the opposition Democratic Party submitted a bill on the issue, but it is still pending.