South Africa

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Technology is a game changer in protecting citizens from a crime-riddled life

Vumacam high-definition security cameras in Greenside, Johannesburg on 14 October 2021. (Photos: Leila Dougan)

While there are many fears around using video surveillance, the fears are often based on a preconceived belief that mass surveillance is taking place. Vumacam is not in the business of mass surveillance, nor do we plan to be.

There is not a minute that goes by in South Africa that is crime-free. As you read this, statistics tell us that somewhere in our country another family is dealing with a horrific criminal incident that will change their lives forever. Crime is a gross threat to our right to safety. We all watch, wait, and expect to be the next victim. 

It is a brutal truth that erodes our faith in the many brilliant aspects of our country. 

The words “Who will intervene?” “Something must be done!” have been a plea for years.

This is why Vumacam exists. A multitude of factors create the pervasive existence of crime, and a multitude of solutions are required, but we chose to act in a realm in which we have expertise. 

Vumacam was shaped by our experience in the private security industry where the manpower to effectively fight crime was unachievable. The sheer number of “boots on the ground” that would be required to get ahead of this epidemic, would be logistically and financially impossible. 

The Vumacam network of cameras that watch over Johannesburg provides a game-changing means for private security companies and law enforcement to prevent, document and investigate criminal activity. Where often fatal crime took place without witnesses or information to investigate, Vumacam’s technology creates a pivot point for crime fighting.

We deploy video surveillance infrastructure in public spaces (ie, on street corners). The feeds from the smart camera network are processed by our platform to which artificial intelligence is applied to highlight irregular activity (such as being hijacked, attacked, falling down or someone breaking a car window).

Our technology enables collaboration between private and public institutions in their pursuit of crime prevention, detection, and apprehension. It allows the ability to deploy the right resources to the right place, at the right time. Our License Plate Recognition (LPR) cameras can flag vehicles that have been placed on a Vehicle of Interest (VOI) database if they are suspected of or have been involved in a crime.

Video surveillance is not a new concept, and although applying the technology in the public domain is relatively new in SA, as with any new concept, serious doubt and misperceptions can exist when it’s not fully understood.

For Vumacam, using technology responsibly is just as critical a priority as fighting crime.

While there are many fears around using video surveillance, the fears are often based on a preconceived belief that mass surveillance is taking place. Vumacam is not in the business of mass surveillance, nor do we plan to be.

Mass surveillance is defined as “indiscriminate surveillance which uses systems or technologies that collect, analyse, and/or generate data on indefinite or large numbers of people instead of limiting surveillance to individuals about which there is reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing”. 

Our technology is not intended, nor honed for this purpose, but rather provides situational awareness alerting our partners in crime fighting to threats which may be imminent or are already taking place. 

In short, our cameras are not watching you — they enable our partners to watch out for you. 

As committed as Vumacam is to the pursuit of safety and security of every South African citizen, we are equally committed to respect and protect their privacy. 

Vumacam has taken carefully considered steps to be Popia (Protection of Personal Information Act) compliant.

We realise that our expertise must be equally supported by ethical consideration and legal guidance. We are working hand in hand with our legal team who are experts in the field, to draft a code of conduct (as allowed for in Section 60 of Popia) for the video surveillance industry. This will ensure that the standards for privacy protection are clear and explicit and the importance of complying with the code of conduct will be as important as complying with Popia itself. 

The argument that the technology should not exist because it might be managed incorrectly is an illogical one that will set society back. The argument that it should be managed and regulated, however, is an argument that we firmly support. 

Responsible use of video surveillance has immense benefits. Safer environments foster economic growth, providing the stability required for communities and businesses to thrive, not just survive. Using technology — in the right way — creates game-changing scenarios for every South African.  DM

Ricky Croock is the  CEO of Vumacam

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