KAMPALA – If you thought public CCTV cameras were mounted on our roads purely to curb crime, you may have to rethink again. A mini investigation has proved gross abuse of these facilities for personal gain.
It has been confirmed that those charged with the responsibility of manning CCTV cameras are minting obscene money from those who love “scoring goals” using the hand.
Some unscrupulous people are using these cameras to monitor the movement of their cargo from one point to another; others are using them to monitor the movement of their spouses while others are using them to monitor the movement of their enemies for personal and illicit reasons.
The majority however are Motor vehicle dealers who are using some of the information and footage to monitor the location of defaulters who took vehicles on hire purchase while financial institutions are using the Automatic Number Plate Recognition to locate defaulters and to apprehend them.
These practices are part of the ugly head of corruption that continues to damage Uganda, for man eateth where he workth and defeats the very purpose for which these cameras were installed using tax payers money. No wonder crime goes unnoticed as officers in charge of the camera rooms pay more attention to accomplishing tasks for which they have been paid cash by the unscrupulous people.
In a bid to fight criminality, thousands of sophisticated Hi Tech CCTV cameras were imported and installed in hot spot areas around the country with the districts of Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso being the main beneficiaries. These cameras have the capacity to pick images and disseminate them to a storage facility at the national CCTV command centre managed by the ICT Department of Uganda police. If the National CCTV command centre gets reports of any vehicle involved in any crime, the vehicle is blacklisted using their number plates before they are tracked and impounded. It is from this facility that information and footage is picked and analyzed and where possible stored as evidence.
President Museveni is on record for having hailed the installation of CCTV cameras as a game changer in improving the country’s security predicament partly because of the technological technical interventions ushered in by these cameras in urban centres, major junctions and highways. There is no doubt, these cameras instilled some fear in the minds of criminals who began acting with caution with fear of being caught on camera. These cameras were expected to have several functions embedded to both their raised boards and the fiber supported control centers. Among these include face and number plate recognition technologies, night vision, Global Positioning System and automatic cleaning system.
This is the only point in time that I believed the President had the capacity to fight off any evil in Uganda including corruption but he does not have the political will to do so. I just love the speed with which he ordered for the procurement and installation of camera, the Public Procurement and disposal of Public Assets laws were pushed aside and nobody questioned, not even Parliament. The last time I checked, the President was advocating for the integration of the CCTV with the vehicle tracking system whose contract was embarrassingly allocated to a certain fictitious none starter foreign company.
The plan was to have the cameras fed with information regarding a particular number plate of a particular wanted vehicle- purely for crime. When viewed on the road, the camera instantly sends an alert to the nearest camera room using an automatic number plate recognition system, facial recognition of the driver and intelligent video footage for reference. The same is stored depending on the capacity of the storage facility. The CCTV camera under normal circumstances can provide instant information to enable the officer in the monitoring room communicate with security in the direction of the vehicle for action.
Whereas the intention of Government was to install cameras in order to curb crime, others have taken advantage to make quick bucks in addition to their monthly salary. Not so long ago, the Government of Uganda commenced the public roads CCTV systems. The implementation especially at Uganda National Roads Authorities installations saw the integration of network cameras interlinked and modified to have an Automatic Number Plate Recognition. The deployments of these cameras enhanced image quality and distributed intelligent video capabilities to the vehicle registration system. With all factors being constant, the system allows for capturing of each vehicle’s number plate as it passes the cameras conspicuously located in strategic points. When an offence is committed or it becomes necessary to track a particular vehicle, the footage can be searched using the number plate as a reference.
Following the gruesome broad day assassination of Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, President Museveni reacted by ordering the Minister of Finance to provide funds for buying the CCTV cameras and to have them installed with immediate effect. However, his directive was not implemented until the murder of Ibrahim Abiriga that Parliament passed a Shs60 billion supplementary budget to finance the first phase of installation of the public roads CCTV cameras out of the 458 billion that was required for the implementation of the project. The project was implemented by Uganda Police and Huawei experts and has covered a substantial part of the country. .
In effect, the CCTV cameras reduced deployment pressure on the Uganda Police Force. Experts however blamed the National Registration Agency for not doing a good work when they were registering nationals. They say NIRA only captured the front of faces and fingerprints of people in their database, but forgot the sides of faces, making it difficult to identify suspects since the CCTV cameras capture only facial sides.
Despite the good side of the new found innovation over the CCTV cameras, Unwanted Witness, a privacy rights defender organisation went up in arms against the installation of surveillance cameras without a law on privacy and data protection. The organisation said government or unscrupulous individuals could use the collected data to harass its critics and or perceived enemies while others would misuse the data collected for other motives not associated with crime. At the time of the Presidential directive, an enabling proposed law on privacy and data protection was gathering dust on the shelves of Parliament.
In an effort to stock his wife, my friend Michael who lives in Ethiopia had installed GPS gargets in her motor vehicle. Somehow, the wife leant of the secret gadgets and had them removed secretly. Still determined to establish her movements, Michael told me that he had hired one of the officers in the camera room to blacklist the number plate of the vehicle so that it would be identified wherever it passed and information sent to him every after three days. By the time he shared this information with me, he had been spying on his wife for a whole and the information he got left him with no option but to seek a divorce.
In a similar development, a client of mine who deals in the selling of used motor vehicles told me how he had found a cheaper means of tracking the cars he had sold on hire purchase terms but had defaulted on paying the balance. He said his only duty was to provide the number plates of the vehicles to his contact manning the public cameras. He said within 7 days, he would get verified concrete information on the regular roads used by the defaulting vehicles at about Ush.500,000/= per vehicle and then he would send his enforcement team to lay a trap and impound the vehicles. The cost of impounding the vehicle is then pushed on the desperate customer when he/she comes to reclaim the motor vehicles. Such is our country.
The author, Roger Wadada Musaalo, a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician