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Digital surveillance against women: 'Model' Gujarat's 57% agree, 2nd highest in India

By Rajiv Shah* 

Are patriarchal attitudes more prevalent in Gujarat than other parts of India? It would seem so, if one goes by the findings of a study carried out by non-profits Common Cause and Lokniti – Centre for the Study Developing Societies (CSDS).
Based on face-to face survey with 9,779 individuals across 12 Indian states and UTs to understand perceptions around different forms of digital tracking, the study, “Status of Policing in India Report 2023 Surveillance and the Question of Privacy”, released in Delhi recently, says that Gujarat is second to none, except Tamil Nadu, insofar as approval for the use of CCTV cameras “against women” compared other states.
On being asked whether CCTVs cameras in public places should be used “against women to monitor them”, the study reports, “At the state level, people in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, largely believe that CCTV cameras in public places can be used to monitor women. On the contrary, in Punjab, Kerala, and Assam most respondents disagreed with the statement, though in Assam one-fifth did not share their opinion on this question.”
Stating that respondents from a larger percentage of people (67) from Tamil Nadu believed that CCTVs in public places can be used to surveil women, the study says, this was followed by 57% from Gujarat, 54% from Karnataka, 51% from Maharashtra and Haryana, 49% from Andhra Pradesh, 47% from Uattar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi, 43% from West Bengal, and 36% in Kerala and Punjab, and 34% from Assam.
“Interestingly”, the study says, “Gender does not make much of a difference in the perception of men and women on the potential misuse of CCTVs against women. The dilemma of the choice between security and violence seems to be reflected in the responses of both men and women. The survey shows that men and women think alike on the subject.”
Questioning the manner in which surveillance is being carried out, the study notes that in 2020, the Delhi Police launched a new initiative called "Prahari" to improve the safety and security of women in the city. The system uses predictive analytics to identify potential crime hotspots and deploy police personnel accordingly. The police department developed a mobile app called Himmat Plus, which allows women to send SOS alerts to the police in case of emergency.
Also, “with reported crimes against women increasing annually and reaching a six-year high in 2021(National Crime Research Bureau, 2016-2021), safety applications have emerged as a one-click solution for women during any emergency. Both government, as well as private companies, have developed mobile applications for women’s safety. For instance, the Himmat app was launched by the Delhi Police.”
However, the study says, there is “an ironical conundrum” in this. “In order to ensure their safety, women are expected to surrender their location-related privacy. This dilemma is reflected in the responses of the women, as 15 percent feel very anxious while sharing their location with such apps. However, these are relatively newer technologies, and 38 percent of the female respondents have never shared their locations on these apps and therefore not shared their opinion too on this question.”
It also underlines, “Budgeting for such technologies needs to be questioned. The government invests in technologies such as CCTVs for women’s safety, although in a majority of sexual assault cases, the offenders are known to the victim. The effectiveness of such investments needs to be studied.”
Referring in this context to the view of a former police officer, the study says, he stressed the importance of surveillance for national security, personal safety, community safety, and the safety of women and children. However, he called for a “clear demarcation of the boundaries of such surveillance and suggested that the system for putting individuals on technical surveillance needs to be reviewed and made more stringent to prevent misuse.”
The police officer is quoted as stating, “Surveillance for national security, for personal safety, the safety of the community, the safety of women and children is doable, is accepted.” But “for that, the boundaries should be demarcated. When it infringes upon the privacy of an individual, the processes need a review and need to be made very stringent.”
He adds, “Citizens who appreciate surveillance in their interest, in the interest of the community and nation are not fooled into devices and methods which infringe upon their privacy. Processes of surveillance should be very clearly defined, be very stringent, and also … judicial oversight should be introduced in India for any kind of surveillance.”
The study says, “Security and privacy have become a great concern for people from different backgrounds and identities, especially women... The sense of invasion of privacy due to CCTV cameras in public places and other spaces is more in women compared to men because it is linked with the perpetuation of violence against them through technological means...”
“This insecurity”, the study believes, “is compounded by uncertainty over who has access to the data from the cameras. Particularly in the context of rising digital voyeurism, where spy cameras are installed to snoop on people in private spaces, such technology can be especially threatening.”
It adds, “In an age where the boundaries between private and public spaces are being constantly negotiated, incidents such as the online circulation of intimate footage captured through CCTVs raise concerns over women’s right to privacy in public spaces.”
Taking these issues into consideration, the study says, people were asked to what extent they think CCTV cameras in public places can be used against women to monitor them. Across India, “two of every ten respondents (21%) completely agreed that there is a possibility of cameras being used against women in public places to monitor them.”
All-India survey results
“On the other hand”, it says, “One-fourth of respondents (26%) strongly disagree with the possibility. One out of two people are of the opinion that CCTVs in public places can be used against women to monitor them.”
“In many cases”, the study believes, “These are targeted at vulnerable categories, such as children, women, and those from marginalised sections of society. For instance, in the ‘Sulli Deals’ incident of 2021, pictures of several Muslim women were posted online without their consent, to be ‘auctioned off’. The legal vacuum or the lack of laws to tackle these specific crimes also becomes apparent with their rising instances.”
Stating that there also exists gender gap in the use of digital technologies for online transactions, the study says, “While four of every ten (39%) men were very comfortable making online transactions using debit or credit cards, the proportion of women was just three of every ten (30%). This could be because of the stark digital gender divide present in India.”
It adds, “The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 points out that in India, smartphone ownership of men increased from 36 percent in 2019 to 41 percent in 2020 and 49 percent in 2021. Whereas, for women, this number is 14 percent, 25 percent and 26 percent for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021 respectively.”
When it came to sharing their GPS location with their spouse or family members, the study says, “Around one-fourth of the respondents (26%) expressed some form of anxiety while about one in three (33%) expressed no form of anxiety. However, a little over a quarter (27%) said that they never shared their locations with their family or spouse.”
“Out of those who felt some form of anxiety about sharing their location, the difference between men (27%) and women (24%) was not that significant. But 30 percent of the women said that they never shared their GPS location with their families or spouse. A possible reason for this could be that women don’t use phone (smartphones) as much as their male counterparts”, the study underscores.
*Editor. Counterview 


Are crimes against women perpetrated by other women? NO--they are perpetrated by men. So, the surveillance should be directed towards men. Keep them in check and start teaching them from childhood to respect ALL women.

But then, who has the guts to track men--the mere suggestion will trigger a revolt because their independence and freedom are being trampled on.


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