PSCA answers: Are surveillance cameras blinding commuters?

  • PSCA officials say cameras still in testing phase; ready to bring improvement after receiving complaints


LAHORE: Commuters on Jail Road and in the Gulberg have complained of flashing cameras blinding them in mid drive, a significant safety hazard, which have been installed all over the city as part of the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA).

Commuters using vehicles ranging from motorbikes, to cars to heavy-duty vehicles have all complained specifically about the long line of cameras on the road leading from the Jail Road to the Liberty, saying that the continuous flashes from cameras make driving on the road a great hassle.

The cameras are part of the safe cities project which was first launched in Islamabad and is now being implemented in Lahore. As part of their initiative, the Punjab Police and the Traffic Police have installed at least 5000 cameras all over the provincial capital of which 3000 cameras are operational and online, feeding information to the authority’s central control room and categorically recording all collected data.

Traffic officials told Pakistan Today that the cameras were of three main types – surveillance cameras, ANPR and face recognition. These are used to monitor, read plates and recognise the faces respectively and is based on the same system operating in England’s capital London. The authority hopes to be able to install and in time get up and running another 3500 cameras in the city, the same amount being used in London.

Of these, the face recognition cameras emit a bright flash to take pictures of the passing motor vehicles and the area. Much had been made of the ‘e-challan’ concept introduced earlier this year and these cameras are its main proponents as they pick up people not wearing seat belts, attending phone calls as well as the faces of known criminals that exist in police databases.

However, now the cameras are more of a problem than they are a deterrent as they manage to blind commuters with their repeated flashes for significant periods until they cross them. The fact that at least 10 of these cameras have been installed makes things all the more difficult for them.

PSCA officials told Pakistan Today that the cameras were still in the testing phase and that complaints were being collected to see how it could be improved. They admitted that this could be a possible problem and that they were urging people to provide feedback.

However, traffic police officials remained adamant that no complaints had been received despite many commuters Pakistan Today talked to saying that they were having trouble on the particular road regularly. One driver, Muhammad Wasim, even said that he had suffered a road accident when he crashed into the car in front of him because of the flash.

“When I told the traffic police this was the reason they said I was being unreasonable. But the other person let me go as he agreed that the lights were a major problem!” he added. It is also pertinent to note that in England, the other place where ANPR are used specifically, it is against national policy to reveal where these cameras have been placed while the large amount installed in single areas are screaming signals for this information.

Another aspect that is worrying is the legality of the situation, as there is no clarity over how the invasion of privacy that these devices bring will cause. When face recognition and photographic cameras were first introduced in the US, the debate over privacy invasion lasted for many years.

Despite the many solid and efficient projects they are currently running, the PSCA needs to reevaluate on this issue and method of testing before it causes serious harm.