CCTV & Invasion to Privacy in the GCC
The world in this millennium is techno-dependent for almost every aspect of life whether its payment of debts through credit card, entering into contracts by parties distant through online, i.e. e-contracts, e-booking of railway or air tickets and even social networking platforms. The technology and communication revolution is at a global level, as this revolution has crossed political boundaries, demolished economic barriers and proved effective in making up of cultural differences. Technology has spread its roots in even far-flung areas so that individuals from different corners of the world can communicate freely and cost-effectively. This has compelled governments all over the world to review the laws and policies related to information technology.
Privacy as defined in Black’s Dictionary right of a person and the persons’ property to be free from unwarranted public scrutiny and exposure. Privacy as a right has changed by leaps and bounds in recent times. One of the most basic liberties of the individuals after the right to life is right to privacy that has been incorporated in the legal system through legislative measures or through judicial pronouncements in various jurisdictions. The right to privacy holds high pedestal as privacy helps to create barriers and manage boundaries to defend ourselves from unwarranted interference with our personal lives and allows us to negotiate who we are and how we desire to engage with the outside world. Privacy essentially limits access to domains related to us. For example, limiting who has access to our personal details, communications and information. Also, significant to bear in mind is that there is a slew of international conventions and charters which exist to reinforce the norm that right to privacy is an essential component of human life which makes life more than mere animal existence. Some of the international conventions and charters which uphold right of privacy are as follows:
- Article 12 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- Articles 16 and 21 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights;
- Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on Migrant Workers;
- Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- Article 10 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child;
- Article 4 of the African Union Principles on Freedom of Expression (the right of access to information);
- Article 11 of the American Convention on Human Rights;
- Article 5 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,
- Article 21 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration; and
- Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Relevant conventions for our perusal in the aforementioned list are:
- Article 12, Universal Declaration of Human Rights: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
- Article 17, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: (1) No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour or reputation. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
- Article 16(8) of the Arab Charter of Human Rights: The right to respect for his security of person and his privacy in all circumstances.
- Article 21 of Arab Charter of Human Rights: (1) No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with regard to his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour or his reputation. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks
Similarly, in line with the discussion in above paragraphs the legal regime of protecting privacy intrusion through CCTV is covered by mainly two legislations- firstly, Article 378 of the Federal Law Number 3 of 1987 of UAE Penal Code (the UAE Penal Code) as amended by Federal Law Number 34 of 2005 states as follows:
“Shall be sentenced to detention and to a fine, whoever violates the private or familial life of individuals, by perpetrating one of the following acts, unless authorized by law, or without the victim’s consent:
i. If he lends his ears, records or transmits, through an apparatus of any kind, conversations that took place in a private place or through the telephone or any other apparatus.
ii. Captures or transmits, through any kind of apparatus, the picture of a person in a private place. Should the acts, referred to in the two-preceding paragraph, be perpetrated during a meeting in front of the attending persons, their consent shall be presumed.
Shall be sentenced to the same penalty, whoever publishes through any means of publicity, news or pictures or comments related to the secrecy of private or familial life of the individuals, even if correct.
Shall be sentenced to detention for a maximum period of seven years and to a fine, the public servant who perpetrates one of the acts mentioned in the present article relying on the strength of the authority of his position.
The apparatuses and other objects that that may have been used in perpetrating the crime shall, in all cases, be confiscated and order shall be given to erase all relative recordings and destroy the same.”
Secondly, Article 21 of Federal Decree Law Number 5 of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes states: “Shall be punished by imprisonment of a period of at least six months and a fine not less than one hundred and fifty thousand dirhams and not in excess of five hundred thousand dirhams or either of these two penalties whoever uses a computer network or and electronic information system or any information technology means for the invasion of privacy of another person in other than the cases allowed by the law and by any of the following ways:
- Eavesdropping, interception, recording, transferring, transmitting or disclosure of conversations or communications, or audio or visual materials.
- Photographing others or creating, transferring, disclosing, copying or saving electronic photos.
- Publishing news, electronic photos or photographs, scenes, comments, statements or information even if true and correct. Shall also be punished by imprisonment for a period of at least one year and a fine not less than two hundred and fifty thousand dirhams and not in excess of five hundred thousand dirhams or either of these two penalties whoever uses an electronic information system or any information technology means for amending or processing a record, photo or scene for the purpose of defamation of or offending another person or for attacking or invading his privacy”
There has been an increasing number of incidences in UAE in which usage of CCTV as an apparatus to commit infringement of privacy have come into light. CCTV recording the details such as our face, the time of our presence, car numbers or our leisure time with family and friends. Though there is no law at Federal level with regards to CCTV control and regulation but certain Emirates have regulation such as Dubai Law Number 24 of 2008 which has Article 16 according to which the business concerns that must satisfy certain security specifications including employing CCTV such as: hotels and short-stay residences, financial and monetary institutions, manufacture and sale of precious metals and stones, shooting ranges, military and hunting equipment stores, shopping and leisure centers, precious materials storage facilities, hazardous materials storage facilities, precious commodities stores/outlets, large department stores, petrol stations, internet services, storage services, aircraft and balloon clubs. Besides Dubai, even Abu Dhabi under Smart Abu Dhabi Vision Abu Dhabi Law Number 5 of 2011 was passed by the Executive Council with statutory aims of:
- establish Monitoring and Control Centre;
- Electronic monitoring of public and private places and establishments; and
- developing the infrastructure of follow-up and control systems to serve the competent authorities of Emirates.
Also, operating monitoring devices without Monitoring and Control Center’s (MCC’s) approval is an offence punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of no less than AED 50,000 to AED 200,000.
Similarly, Kuwait under Law Number 61 of 2015 concerned the regulation and installation of surveillance cameras and security also provides for installation of CCTV at hotels and hotel apartments, commercial complexes, cooperative societies and residential complexes, banks and money exchange shops and shops selling gold and jewelry, sporting and cultural clubs and youth centers, shopping malls, entertainment, hospitals, clinics, warehouses and stores precious materials and hazardous materials and refueling stations, and other facilities to be determined by a decision of the Council Minister at Kuwait.
Oman has stipulated law for CCTV to be installed at food eateries, according to which CCTV is mandatory and in event of its malfunctioning or stopping the establishment would be fined RO 100 minimum to RO 3000 maximum.
Though howsoever, genuine the CCTV regulations may be and which serve the purpose of security and protection of people from anti-social and criminal elements there has been news report which reveals how CCTV recordings have been used as an intrusion to privacy of another person for malicious fun or as a nuisance. Recently, three government officials were accused of breaching the privacy through use of CCTV and the case is under hearing at Al Ain Misdemeanour Court. Also, in UAE taxis have started installing the CCTV cameras which are sparking anger from the customers. But given GCC being new domain for regulation for such sensitive and sophisticated CCTV regulations and surveillance much depends to be seen how the legal regime works.
In conclusion, it could be said that institutions are keeping an electronic eye on people without involving the subjects how the information collected should be processed. The law and technology should balance the national security concerns with individual rights of privacy.