Police officers in Hong Kong will make a trial of using small cameras worn on the body. Police say the cameras are an attempt to cut crime, while human rights groups object that this new technology will invade the privacy of Hong Kong’s citizens.
An unknown number of frontline police officers will wear the small cameras during a three-month trial period, The South China Morning Post reported earlier this week. The devices will be placed on officers in tactical units and in the Kowloon West emergency units.
The cameras are each worth HK$6,800 (US$875), are around the size of a cigarette packet, and clip to police uniforms. Officials hope the cameras will deter crime, keep police from acting out of line during protests or in periods of civil unrest, and aid with gathering evidence.
Some U.S. and U.K. police already use similar cameras, and a small trial has begun in Australia, despite privacy concerns.
If the scheme is deemed a success, the Hong Kong police force will buy around 7,000 of the small devices.
However, human rights groups have expressed concern over the trial run.
Law Yuk-kai, head of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said that randomly filming the public breaches the “constitutional right to privacy” of the people in Hong Kong and threatens personal liberty, AFP reported. Law said the police could potentially use the cameras to monitor political activists protests against mainland China’s regime because there are currently no laws regarding use of the small cameras.
“It will create a climate of fear and turn the city into a police state with Big Brother watching us all the time,” Law told the news agency.
At the same time, the cameras will also deter people from taking part in pro-democracy protests, said activist Richard Tsoi, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, in the report. “People are afraid of being filmed … They don’t know how the footage will be used and how it will be preserved.”
Hong Kong is considered a semi-autonomous zone that, unlike mainland China, has important guarantees of personal liberty, including the rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience. In one example, around 180,000 residents took part in a candlelight vigil in early June to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
A unnamed source with knowledge of the camera plan told the Morning Post that the devices would only be used when “deemed necessary” and during major incidents.
Legislator James To Kun-sun, however, warned that “incidents which would benefit from video footage are few and far between, and not enough to justify having surveillance like this,” according to the newspaper.
“[To adopt this] is a big change in policy. Even the police admitted that 99 percent of protests in Hong Kong are completely peaceful, so how often would we need to ‘monitor’ situations?” he questioned, suggesting police instead “carry a normal video camera on protests.”
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