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Amnesty International rejects national CCTV policy, calls for rights-compliant data protection law

The policy is part of the government’s efforts to govern the installation, operation, and management of the surveillance equipment in both private public premises/FILE – MOSES MUOKI

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 15 – Amnesty International-Kenya has raised alarm over the proposed national CCTV policy, that introduces drastic changes in a move meant to curb crime.

The policy is part of the government’s efforts to govern the installation, operation, and management of the surveillance equipment in both private public premises.

The lobby group has cited human rights concerns, saying the draft policy has a potential of being used as a tool of social and economic control through a social credit system akin one set to be operationalize in China by 2020 which will standardize the assessment of citizens’ and businesses’ economic and social reputation.

“The policy states that CCTV systems will be operated with respect for people’s privacy and their rights in the conduct or engagement in lawful activities’; it should be noted that human rights law always applies in all circumstances, regardless of a person’s conduct,” reads the lobby group statement sent to newsrooms on Wednesday.

The lobby group has detailed six demands it wants addressed before the national CCTV policy can be adopted.

Among the demands is the suspension of its creation, until a human rights compliant data protection law is in place.

Amnesty International-Kenya is also demanding establishment reasonable limits around access to data by State agencies, which will include oversight and authorization mechanism, through an independent body.

“Amnesty recommends that the government prioritizes establishing strong data protection legislation that protects human rights over expanding the collection of CCTV data nationwide and granting government agencies extensive access to privately-owned CCTV equipment. Amnesty understands that the National Assembly has called for consultations on the proposed Data Protection Bill, and we will submit a separate response to this proposed legislation,” the Irungu Houghton-led lobby group recommended.

They have cautioned the Government against going the China way, where such policies, they allege, has been misused to deprive citizens their human rights.

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“It is noteworthy that Kenya and China have very different democratic, human rights and constitutional frameworks. Under the Kenyan Constitution, human rights are integral and can only be limited under very strict parameters,” they pointed out.

The policy mandates all CCTV cameras owners and operators to archive “incidences of interest” for an extended period, without specifying what might constitute such an incident.

Amnesty recommends specification of the criteria with regards to “incidences of interest”.

Those who install CCTV cameras are required to ensure their systems are compatible with the government digital security network/CFM – MOSES MUOKI

While State authorities bear responsibility to keep public spaces safe, they lamented that “ outsourcing widespread surveillance of public spaces to institutions and businesses potentially undermines state responsibility and accountability for the upkeep of safety and public order – and indeed mandates human rights abuses by said institutions and businesses, where the right to privacy is undermined.”

They are also against the use of a facial recognition technology, saying it poses a threat to privacy rights, freedom of expression and association and has a potential of being used to discriminate or promote ethnic profiling.

Those who install CCTV cameras are required to ensure their systems are compatible with the government digital security network.

Thousands of Kenyans mostly in the urban centres have resulted to use of the CCTV cameras due to increased crime and as a deterrence measure.

Police have in the past been able to profile and trail suspects of crime using retrieved CCTV footages, whether on roads or private premises.

However, surveillance gadgets have on some occasions been said to be ‘faulty’ and have missed high-profile murders including that of former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission ICT Manager Chris Msando in 2017.

The government has since installed some 1,803 high-definition CCTV cameras covering Nairobi and Mombasa counties, which are usually monitored by specially trained police officers in a bid to thwart security threats.

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