Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
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Surveillance Camera Issues in Korea

-- By WookJinRha - 27 Apr 2010

    Surveillance cameras secretly watching people’s every move has become part of our routine today. They are installed in apartment elevators, street alleys, virtually everywhere. Development in digital technology has made surveillance cameras much smarter than ever before, and they are considered by many to have contributed greatly in crime prevention and criminal arrests. But on the other side there is a concern that surveillance cameras are the “Big Brother” of the 21st century.
    Through the discussions and instances in Korea, I plan to analyze the light and shadow that surveillance cameras are bringing to our society.

I. Rapid Increase of Surveillance Cameras

    It is estimated that there are about 2.5 million surveillance cameras in Korea. Some cities are using surveillance camera not merely for crime prevention, but also for flood and forest fire prevention. One rural village residents installed three surveillance cameras by themselves after experiencing frequent occurrence of theft.
    After recent incidents of serial killers and rapists targeting young women and children in Korea, the society’s atmosphere is quite favorable towards the installation of the surveillance cameras. Many people seem to give higher priority and weight toward their crime prevention function compared to the negative side. Nevertheless, there are people who are anxious about the privacy invasion, leakage of personal information etc..
    The installation of surveillance cameras is increasing rapidly, but there is no proper legal regulation regarding surveillance cameras. Surveillance cameras operated by the public sector are partially regulated by the “Privacy Protection Act”, but there is no law regulating cameras in the private sector.

II. Crime Prevention Function

    Crime prevention surveillance camera played a big role in identifying, tracking and arresting recent kidnapping and murder suspect of a college girl. The car the suspect was driving appeared on the surveillance camera around the time the victim disappeared, which eventually led to the arrest. The suspect was convicted for serial killing of seven young women. If it wasn’t for the surveillance camera, more victims could have occurred. Like in this example as surveillance cameras contribute in solving violent crimes, more municipals as well as companies and private people are installing surveillance cameras.
    A research by Korean Institute of Criminology reported that the installation of surveillance cameras has resulted in some decrease in crimes such as robbery, theft, but it did not have much impact on crimes such as murder, rape, assault etc. The report analyzed that the surveillance cameras affect the crimes that were committed with relatively rational mind, but has no effect on crimes that are involving expression of emotion.

III. Issues Surrounding Surveillance Cameras

1. Treating People as Potential Criminals

    Surveillance cameras have fundamental problem of treating average citizens as potential criminals. This could also cause psychological problems on people who are under the camera surveillance. One instance was reported that a company in Seoul installed surveillance cameras in workplace to watch over labor union workers, and the workers were diagnosed with mass mental disease due to the surveillance.

2. Possible Privacy Invasion

    Surveillance cameras collect all sorts of private information by recording the streets 24/7. Collecting and storing private information without consent raises the privacy invasion issue. Newest surveillance cameras are known to rotate 180 degrees and are capable of zooming into people’s faces over 500 yards away for identification check. They are also able to detect and track people performing certain actions.
    Even when the crime prevention surveillance cameras are installed based on consensus of the people and the specific circumstances of the location that the camera is being installed, the privacy invasion issue is never likely to be resolved properly.

3. Surveillance Camera the Only Solution to Prevent Crime?

    The surveillance camera is regarded by many people to be extremely efficient for the crime prevention purposes. Consequently, when there was an email poll by a municipal government concerning the installation of the surveillance cameras, 88.7% of the residents were in support. Another internet poll by a press company showed 68% in support of the installation.
    The primary reason for this support is likely due to the number of news that showed effectiveness of the surveillance cameras. But many people never seriously had the opportunity to focus on the negative effects.
    The surveillance cameras should not be deemed as the ultimate solution for the crime prevention, since they may not have the dramatic effect. We should not stop considering and developing the alternatives which have less privacy invasion concerns.

IV. Conclusion

    As the light of surveillance camera is strong, the darkness is also deep. The real question regarding the surveillance camera is how the people will weigh the positive and negative aspects. Currently, considering the recent violent and heinous crimes that are occurring in Korea, the increase of surveillance cameras seems inevitable. Nevertheless, the installation should be limited to the crime-prone areas so that the issue of privacy invasion is minimized. The area should be selected based on field observation and research on areas that are vulnerable to crimes, and also upon request from the residents. Also corresponding to the increase, there should be a thorough management of the cameras and the recording. For example, the recording and its playback should strictly be limited to the purpose of specific crime investigation.


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r2 - 17 Jan 2012 - 17:48:34 - IanSullivan
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