As the Delhi government expands CCTV camera coverage in schools and proceeds with its plan to provide parents with live streams of footage, experts have warned against such surveillance, citing a lack of safeguards and privacy concerns.
Parents’ associations also said that constant surveillance within a classroom would limit a student’s natural mind.
State schools in the capital have installed CCTV cameras in their classrooms since 2017, although parents have not had access to this footage until now.
In 2019, the Delhi Government launched a pilot project at Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Lajpat Nagar, which allowed parents to access live feeds from the CCTV cameras installed in the school’s classrooms. The project lasted almost a year until the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 left schools closed and disrupted the state’s plans to expand project streaming to other schools in Delhi.
However, last month the Directorate of Education (DoE) urged heads of state schools in the capital to ensure CCTV systems are set up in a timely manner.
In a statement to school principals, the department said the state Public Works Department (PWD) will install and test the cameras, after which parents or guardians will be given a link to access live footage from cameras at the school with an individual ID card and Password. Schools were also asked to seek parent or guardian consent.
In the consent form, parents must declare that they will not share the password of the mobile app for live video recordings of their children’s classroom with third parties. It also states that in the event of injury or misuse of the footage, appropriate legal action will be taken against the parents.
In the absence of robust privacy laws and the widespread phenomenon of password sharing in families, parent groups and experts have raised concerns about footage misuse.
Teachers’ associations also criticized the move.
Ajay Veer Yadav, secretary-general of the Government School Teachers’ Association (GSTA), said the plan is likely to have dangerous consequences for teacher-student relationships and violate teachers’ privacy.
“Edited images, videos, and footage taken out of context can be shared rampantly [if the move comes to fruition]. This will also negatively affect the balance between students and teachers,” Yadav said.
In 2019, the Delhi Parents Association (DPA) filed a petition against the move, a matter currently before the court.
Aprajita Gautam, DPA President, said that while the group is not opposed to the installation of cameras in schools for security reasons, it has petitioned against the live streaming of footage, which would violate the privacy of students and teachers.
“Even if the government does get some parents’ consent, what about the right to privacy of other children whose parents don’t sign up for the move? The footage of their children is also viewed by other parents. Will the government guarantee us that the footage will not be shared with others?” Gautam said.
Live-streamed footage from school could also change children’s behavior, she said, arguing that children in the classroom might stop being their natural selves. The move would also undermine children’s trust in parents and teachers, Gautam said.
The Delhi government and the DoE did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
In light of some of these concerns, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) wrote to the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) in 2021, urging them to recommend an immediate ban on the use of facial recognition technology in schools in Delhi in 2021.
Anushka Jain, associate policy counsel (monitoring and transparency) at the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), said the Delhi government needs to be “more transparent” about the characteristics of CCTV programming in schools.
“How will the government ensure parents don’t share a password or device with other family members or friends? How is it ensured that the footage is not viewed or shared with criminal intent? One can never be sure which individuals are viewing footage within a household or what their intentions are. Password sharing within families is common and will definitely cause problems,” Jain said.
She said it is the responsibility of school administrators to ensure the safety of children on school premises.
“The feeling of being watched all the time is not healthy for anyone. Surveillance will harm children and their parents won’t have to keep an eye on them all the time,” Jain said.
Pawan Duggal, a cybersecurity expert and Supreme Court attorney, said that while the intent behind the move may be noble, live-streaming classroom footage is likely to create complications on the privacy front, along with greater societal complications and implications on the cyber security that were required to be assessed.
“Even a child has the fundamental right to privacy. Any sharing of the child’s footage, whether with parents or others, violates the child’s right to privacy. Some parents may also be reckless and make the footage public, which could have a negative impact on the child’s growth. There could be further challenges on the cybersecurity front as the footage could be tampered with or tampered with,” Duggal said.
However, some parents will help assure them of the safety of their children at school.
Vandana Gupta, mother of a six-year-old who attends a government school in Kalkaji, welcomed the move.
“So far the school has not informed us of any plans to live stream camera footage. However, if the government implements this facility, I will appreciate it. It’s a good step and will allow us to see what kids are doing in the classroom,” Gupta said.
BK Sharma, director of Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Lajpat Nagar, which provided parents with live classroom footage for a year, said that parents had positive experiences throughout the project. “The project was started with the safety of children in mind. The aim was to teach children self-discipline. Pupils, teachers and parents were happy with the move. As many students commute to school using public transport, the live streaming enabled parents to confirm that their children had reached school safely. Surveillance is not the driving principle behind surveillance of footage,” Sharma said. He said that the school already has the necessary infrastructure and only needs to initiate the mechanism of live streaming of footage once again.