Status of Policing in India Report 2023: Surveillance and the Question of Privacy
The Status of Policing Report in India 2023 (SPIR) was released on 31 March in New Delhi by Common Cause and Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
SPIR 2023 study explores public opinions and experiences regarding digital surveillance in India. Recent developments, such as the Supreme Court's recognition of the right to privacy and discussions surrounding data protection, have intensified debates around privacy and surveillance. The study also considers concerning issues, including allegations of illegal government surveillance using the Pegasus spyware and the enactment of the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022, which grants police the power to collect biometric information from suspects and detainees.
Common Cause, in collaboration with the Lokniti Programme of CSDS, conducted a face-toface survey with 9,779 individuals across 12 Indian states and UTs to understand perceptions around digital surveillance. The study also involved a Focused Group Discussion (FGD) with domain experts, in-depth interviews with serving police officials, and an analysis of media coverage of surveillance-related issues. The findings indicate a high level of public support for certain forms of government surveillance but also reveal a lack of public awareness regarding critical issues such as the Pegasus scandal and the Puttaswamy case.
Consistent with earlier findings from the SPIR 2018 study, public perceptions of digital surveillance by the government and issues such as freedom of expression demonstrate high levels of support for police violence. However, support for any form of surveillance decreases with a decline in the respondent's socio-economic status, consistent with past findings that the poor, Adivasis, Dalits, and Muslims are least trustful of the police.
Overall, the SPIR 2023 study sheds light on public perceptions and experiences regarding digital surveillance in India, highlighting the need for increased awareness and understanding of critical issues and addressing disparities in trust and support for the government and non-government surveillance. Some of the broad findings of the SPIR 2023 are presented below.
CCTVs and crime data
The table above shows the number of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) installed in Indian cities and their density per square mile. On both counts Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad are the most surveilled cities in India. The data has been obtained from private sources.
Tables 2.1 and 2.2 indicate that the number of CCTV cameras available with the police, including those from private establishments, institutions and societies, is significantly lower than the actual overall number of CCTV cameras within the cities, as reported by an international study conducted in 2022. For example, as of 2022, Chennai reportedly has around 2.8 lakh cameras, whereas in the entire state of Tamil Nadu, the police had access to just about 22,912 cameras in 2021. This includes the cameras used by the police for traffic management, investigation, and security purposes. While an exact comparison between the two datasets is not viable due to differences in the years to which the data pertains, the extent of the difference suggests that there is a high probability of the police not having access to a large number of CCTV cameras owned by private individuals or companies.
Time series of CCTV cameras with Police
Table 2.3 shows the increase in CCTV cameras across five years (2016-20). The data indicates massive increases in states like Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Extent of CCTV coverage in urban India
The highest proportion of respondents reporting CCTV coverage in their residential areas were from the states of Karnataka, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh. Well over 60 percent of respondents from the NCT of Delhi said that their residential areas have CCTV coverage. On the contrary, the least coverage was reported in Maharashtra, where one-third said that their households or residential colonies had CCTV cameras.
Government more like to install CCTV cameras in slums
Poor less likely to support CCTVs than rich
Higher educated less likely to believe in mass surveillance
Majority believe CCTVs reduce crime
Across the states in which this study was conducted, nearly all respondents from Kerala, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh (97% each) felt that CCTVs help in monitoring and reducing crime. Notably, in Tamil Nadu, a third of the respondents (34%) felt that CCTVs make people feel safer, yet 90 percent believe that they aid in crime reduction. Those from West Bengal were most sceptical (84%) about the importance of CCTVs in controlling crime and were least likely to agree that it reduces crime.
Gujaratis most likely to support government use of CCTV to control protest
Nearly 95 percent of the respondents in Gujarat justified the government’s use of CCTV as a means to control political movements of all sorts (Table 5.9). Two-thirds of the respondents from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana (65% and 64% respectively) completely supported the use of CCTV in clamping down on protests. In these three states, there was an extremely small proportion of people who were against CCTVs being used by the state for political purposes. All three states are currently ruled by the BJP. However, respondents from West Bengal, Punjab and Karnataka were not as enthusiastic in their support. Only onethird of the respondents (29%) from Bengal completely justified the use of surveillance footage to curb dissent. The number is slightly higher in Punjab (36%) and Karnataka (37%).
Sikhs, Muslims least likely to support CCTV camera to curb protest
Never heard of Pegasus
People were asked if they had ever heard of the Pegasus spyware. Two out of three people (67%) responded in the negative, while just a quarter of the respondents (25%) said that they had heard of Pegasus spyware (Figure 6.8). To further probe people’s opinions on the issue, the respondents were asked whether the government should use such spyware on different categories of people. Out of all categories of people listed in the table below, respondents were most likely to strongly support such targeted surveillance of suspected criminals (43%).
Please click here to access SPIR 2023
Status of Policing in India Report 2023, Common Cause, 31 March, 2023