Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tackling terror with CCTV(Bangalore and Ahmadabad BLAST

“It’s coming,” said an IPS officer during a personal interaction recently. He meant that cameras in public places were to be set up, to help better evidence gathering and preventive policing. But that agenda is not really moving.
Look at what it could have achieved. It is possible that an intelligent police using closed circuit cameras in key places could have averted the Bangalore and Ahmadabad blasts. If such cameras existed in the major Indian cities, and perhaps other sensitive ones, we could find patterns that smart policing can analyse to stop terror in its tracks. Some may argue that the most-watched of cities, London, experienced blasts. It can also be argued, however, that London busted all bomb squads subsequently, arguably helped by close monitoring.
The moral of the story is that Indians are not helping themselves. Their leaders and police brass are not helping the citizens, although they themselves are well-protected. It is time we put our major cities under CCTV camera surveillance, to bring some order to our public places, although constant surveillance means a loss of privacy and an advantage for Big Brother.
But let’s face the truth. What is the state of the citizen today, without the cameras? Our muscular police is waiting for the slightest pretext to trample free speech and impose all manner of curbs. Often, there is no burden of evidence on them to explain their actions. It will actually help law-abiding citizens when camera evidence is available, which can be demanded in court. That will take the pressure off the good people, and produce sufficient evidence about illegal activity. Of course, that means a disadvantage to crooks in uniform.
In the case of Bangalore, it would be possible to pin-point the individuals who are seen in camera footage, at the points closest to the blast sites. Cars can be identified, and individuals screened in slow motion. Rather than crude sketches drawn by a police artist, there will be genuine footage of real people and perhaps the culprits available.
Cameras will also deter a lot of crime, because criminals know they have no chance of escape, and their masters are at risk of being caught in turn.
There is not much expense involved, given that safer cities are good cities: for people, and for commerce. It helps the economy. Let’s hope the State Government helps Bangalore live up to its name of an “intelligent” city in the area of evidence-gathering also. The answer is not to enact some draconian law that will put innoncent, helpless, profiled people behind bars to be tortured, while the perpetrators of violence are able to wriggle out to strike elsewhere.

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