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The Supreme Court today agreed to hear a Public Interest Litigation petition challenging the decision of the Delhi Government to install CCTV cameras in classrooms of schools administered by the government.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna issued notice to the Government of Delhi today in this PIL which claims that this decision of the government violates the Fundamental Right to Privacy.
The petition has been filed by Amber Tickoo, a law student at National Law University, Delhi. Filed through advocate Manisha Ambwani and argued by Advocates Jai Dehadrai and Srishti Kumar, the petitioner contends that the decision to install CCTV cameras in classrooms and provide a live feed of the same to parents of the students is in direct contravention of the Supreme Court Judgement in the Justice Puttaswamy case.
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in 2017, had held Right to privacy as a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The plea states that the judgment, in fact, unambiguously held that the right to privacy of individuals extends to public spaces also.
According to the Delhi government’s decision, the live feed of the CCTV cameras in classrooms can be accessed by any person with a valid username and password which can seriously jeopardize the safety and security of the children. The petition highlights,
“The said installation of CCTV cameras and providing live feed of the same to anyone with a user id and password jeopardizes the safety and security of young girls as also the female teachers and shall directly give rise to the incidents of stalking and voyeurism.”
CCTV surveillance subjects individuals to the gaze of people they do not want to be watched or observed by. It is specifically intrusive for young girls and subjects them to unique harm, the petitioner contends.
In order to buttress this argument, the petitioner cites the example of how such invasive culture would violate dignity, when women go through their menstrual cycles.
Women of that age are usually unsure of how they are expected to handle their reproductive health. It is natural to be baffled at the sudden changes the body goes through and balance that with the unique social pressure that is placed on women. Menstrual health and hygiene concerns are pivotal to the way women conduct themselves at the time of their cycle especially. It is preposterous to have those private actions subjected to scrutiny of the community. It amounts to gross violation of the right to dignity of the children as well as the female teachers, the petitioner argues.
Another issue raised by the petitioner relates to data protection. The plan of the government is devoid of any safety measures with respect to the storage of the recordings made from these CCTV cameras, the petition points out. The unsecured data will be prone to hacking and is another factor that will endanger the security of the children and teachers.
The petitioner also contends violation of Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. It is the petitioner’s case that surveillance on teachers and children will have a chilling effect on the speech and expression of the individuals inside the classroom.
“Students and teachers both will not be able to express themselves freely in a classroom where everything is closely and continually monitored. The expression of learning is strongly embedded in their fundamental right to speech and expression. Cognitive freedom is essential for the exercise of expressive freedom. Classrooms are spaces of learning where children should be able to express their ambitions, ideologies and opinions freely without fear of constantly being watched. Irrespective of whether the cameras permit voice recording or not, there is a deprivation of the right under Article 19(1)(a).”
The decision was taken without undertaking any research/study into the ramifications of such installations, without consideration of the provision of data security as also the psychological impact of the said installations on young children. Further, no consent of the parents, or the teachers was considered before taking the impugned decision, the petition reads.
The petitioner has also alleged that the Department of Education raised concerns about the move to install CCTV, but the same were “shockingly overruled” by the Chief Minister of Delhi.
In addition to the security risks, the petition also alleges financial irregularities on the part of the Delhi government in procuring these CCTV cameras.
The petitioner has, therefore, prayed that the decision of the Delhi government dated September 11, 2017 to install CCTV in schools in Delhi be set aside. Prayer has also been made to set aside the decision of December 11, 2017, to provde online access to parents of the CCTV footage.