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Questions and Reflections Posed by Surveillance Cameras on the Right to Privacy

Hiroshi Nishihara
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

It would appear that the security camera found on street corners has become a familiar scene, as its watchful eye wards off crime and keeps society in order.

The past ten years has seen advances in technology accompanying a rapid increase in the use of surveillance cameras. When combined with a face authentication system, it is possible to monitor the movements of people with a name tag identified on the screen, and the addition of sound collecting and recording technology allows conversations exchanged on-screen to be checked afterwards. Furthermore, hooking up to the Internet means that images can be shared all over the world. It has been reported how violations of trivial rules such as those relating to garbage disposal have been recorded, put onto the net and resulted in social ostracism.

Warning Video Cameras in Use
Suginami-ku, Tokyo is one of a handful of local authorities with statutory regulations regarding the installation and employment of surveillance cameras.

Recently in Europe, the monitoring of employees' actions through the use of surveillance cameras installed inside the company has been discovered and created a stir. While graphs of such things as the number of visits to the toilet are relatively minor issues, there are also instances of using hidden-camera recordings of colleagues complaining about their superiors while changing clothes in a locker room for personnel evaluations. In response to situations such as these, Germany has sought to tighten up surveillance camera regulations and stipulate places where installation is permitted and types of camera which may be installed.

So, what's the situation in Japan? Who can install what kind of camera where and how is the recorded data treated? The truth is, this is extremely ambiguous. Personal Information Protection Law prohibits civilians who access personal information, of more than a specified number of people, from using personal information acquired by surveillance cameras for purposes other than the original intent. As accepted principles apply to civilian installations, any recordings made in the absence of the warning "Warning Video Cameras in Use" are not permitted. However, public bodies such as the police force are not bound by this.

What began as the operation of surveillance cameras by railroad companies and the police took root with the Tokyo subway Sarin nerve-gas attack and from the second half of the 1990s onward, concerns were raised with regard to privacy. After that, however, as the mass media sought to focus on highlighting how surveillance cameras brought a crackdown on crime, the view that "people observed not doing anything wrong were not having their rights infringed upon" became commonplace.

It is hard to know what the right of privacy entails. When you consider how a single step outside the house brings one into the view of others, it could be argued that the installation of surveillance cameras, at least in the street, is not much of an issue. Further, it could be mooted that it is natural for management to seek to scrutinize the service of employees and that there is no room for personal space within companies.

However, is that really the case? For as long as he breathes, man has a need for a space where he can be himself. Surely this is necessary in moments such as our communication with others - our indulgences in chit chat.

Surveillance Cameras and Privacy
When I looked into this with students at my seminar, I found that the mere notion of asking about the actual operation of surveillance cameras was met with a feeling that they were being treated as would-be criminals. Surveillance Cameras and Privacy [Kanshi Kamera to puraibashi] edited by Hiroshi Nishihara (Seibundoh, 2009)

With this in mind, with regard to the installation and operation of surveillance cameras, I think there is a need to take a fresh perspective over the rights of those being photographed. The illegal sale of data captured on camera or any act which seeks to expose embarrassing images to the public and provoke ridicule clearly represent an infringement. That said, under the present legal system, relief from invasion of privacy by another's' surveillance camera may be obtained only through court action and taking compensation. Such self-help is somewhat limited while we remain unaware as to where and when we are being observed.

We should be aware that surveillance calls for responsibility and we need to engineer a system which enables the monitoring of surveillance camera use. Of course, even if surveillance cameras are regulated by law, this will not necessarily give rise to a clear solution that goes far enough. When you consider the fact that communication between people has become stilted and the use of surveillance cameras is spreading in an environment filled with anxiety from our lack of knowledge about the people around us, it is clear that regulations alone are not the answer.

Above all, in seeking a key to the problems concerned with surveillance, we need to consider what kind of society we wish to fashion within our surroundings. Should we aim for a relationship which satisfies the sense of suspicion inherent in our mutual surveillance or a trusting relationship which nurtures mutual respect? Ahead of such a discussion on redressing the balance between surveillance and privacy from the bottom are issues concerning the necessity for regulations on a national level, and it can be argued that questions posed by surveillance cameras are firmly rooted in the way we live.

Hiroshi Nishihara
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile]
Born in 1958, he graduated from the School of Law at Waseda University in 1983 and attained his doctorate in law having completed a program of research at Waseda University's Graduate School of Law in 1996. Previously a full-time lecturer and assistant professor at the School of Social Sciences, Waseda University, he specializes in constitutional law (theories on spiritual freedom and fundamental theories on human rights) in his current position. He is the author of works such as Freedom of Conscience [Ryoshin no Jiyu] (Seibundoh, 1995 - first edition, 2001- augmented edition), The Right to Equality [Byodo Toriatsukai no Kenri] (Seibundoh, 2003), When Schools Teach 'Patriotism' [Gakko ga 'Aikokushin' wo Oshierutoki] (Nippon-Hyoron-sha Co., Ltd., 2003), Freedom of Conscience and Children [Ryoshin no Jiyu to Kodomotachi] (Iwanami Shoten, 2006), Autonomy and Protection [Jiritsu to Hogo] (Seibundoh, 2009) and others.