Should the Government be Watching You?

Should the Government be Watching You?

Should the Government be Watching You?

In Georgia surveillance cameras are not yet as widespread as in EU or USA. But their number is steadily increasing, which brings this issue to the public agenda.

One of the main reasons to have public areas under video surveillance is to deter crime, from minor offences to terrorist attacks. Surveillance cameras can also help to catch criminals and can serve as compelling evidence in court. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between one’s safety and privacy.

Some citizens feel more secure with cameras, while others think that cameras in public places are an invasion of their privacy and are nervous about the idea of “Big Brother” constantly watching them in public. If it was up to Benjamin Franklin to decide this dilemma, he would say that: "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" and would probably order the removal of all surveillance cameras. But today we live in a different reality where in in countries like China and Great Britain the number of surveillance cameras is swiftly increasing, and other nations are following this trend. Therefore it is important to look into the attitudes of people in different countries regarding the government’s desire to have more public places under video surveillance.

The European Values Study (EVS) is a large-scale, cross-national, repeated cross-sectional survey research program studying basic human values that has been in operation since 1981. In the 2017-2018 survey, respondents were asked whether they think that government should have right to put public areas under video surveillance. GORBI has been part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan. This gives us the opportunity to look at the data not only from Georgia but also from other European countries.

 

As we can see from Graph 1, amajority of Georgia’s population (54%) thinks that government should have the right to keep people under video surveillance in public areas. This result is well below that of Iceland and the Netherlands, where more than 70 percent of population thinks that government should have this right, and way above countries such as Croatia, Slovenia and Poland where less than 40 percent of population support this proposition. I think we should try to find an explanation for these results in the recent history of each nation. I will start by looking into Georgia’s recent past and try to understand the story behind these numbers.

Only 7-10 years ago the situation in Georgia was similar to the one in China, where everything was monitored by the government. We all remember taking the batteries out of our cell phones and placing them in a different room since we knew that our phones were being monitored. We have heard about numerous non consensual video and audio recordings, (Including footage depicting personal and intimate life) which were used for blackmail purposes. Even though today we do not have a similar situation any longer the public memory of government taking advantage of surveillance technology in Georgia should still be active in people’s minds and form part of the reason why 46% of Georgian population thinks that government should not have the right to video surveillance in public areas.

This storyline can be supported by the argument that if we look at age distribution in Georgia, we see that younger people are most likely to believe that the government should have a right to keep people under surveillance in public areas, since they might not have a strong memory of video surveillance used for improper purposes by the government. While 63% of those aged 15-24 think that government should have the right to public surveillance, only 50% of those aged 45-54 think the same way.

When discussing public surveillance in Georgia we also need to note the increasing number of smart cameras that automatically fine drivers. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 248 smart cameras installed in Tbilisi in October, 2018 and the number of smart cameras around Georgia is predicted to reach almost 3000. These smart cameras are placed in public areas, and have drastically increased the number of fines issued to drivers.

For example, in the period from January 14-17, 2019, after smart cameras were used to issue fines for vehicles that had not passed mandatory vehicle inspection, 6,654 fines were issued. Before smart cameras went into operation for this offence, only 2,404 fines were issued by patrol police. These cameras also catch other kinds of violations, such as running a red light or speeding. Therefore, with the introduction of smart cameras, fines are increasing. Since there are ongoing issues with infrastructure and signage, and many drivers that were issued licenses before proper standards were effective, expansion of the camera program could go further. This would probably lead to greater dissatisfaction with smart cameras in public places for drivers.

Since 2012 the Georgian law on “Personal Data Protection” has been enacted and according to article 11 of this law, it is permitted to use surveillance cameras but only for the purpose of preventing crime, as well as for the protection of personal safety and property, public order and juvenile delinquency in public areas such as public transport. If this law is followed strictly and precisely, I think that more people in Georgia will support the government’suse of video surveillance in public areas and perhaps even perceive a reduction in crime.

GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)