CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The Western Cape aims to become the first province to create legislation to govern the use of CCTV cameras in public spaces and on private properties.

The City of Cape Town is pushing for the legislative framework which currently does not exist.

As it stands, the municipality has an expansive network of cameras that it uses to monitor public spaces as part of crime prevention initiatives.

There is no legal framework governing the use, positioning and data storage of images from cameras on private properties.

Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith said the City of Cape Town has for years been working with private security companies on a self-regulation framework.

“I wrote to the provincial minister in our next bi-lateral meeting (I asked) we place this foremost on the agenda. As soon as we get back to more regular business, the first thing we have to do is get some kind of start on provincial legislation,” he said.

The City itself has CCTV cameras which Smith said were erected on street poles, allowing them to navigate the lack of legislation.

“We leveraged the fact that we own the assets, namely lighting poles and other stuff and used voluntary compliance because we couldn’t make a law,” he said.

As security cameras become more commonplace across the streets of South African cities, there are also growing concerns about privacy.

Digital Media Law expert Emma Sadleir said: “What the law has done over decades is come up with a common-law test for privacy which basically says if I can show I have a legitimate expectation of privacy in a particular set of circumstances and some infringes on that then I can sue them.”

But she cautioned that because these are public spaces, your argument to privacy would be limited.

In Joburg, Vumacam has set up a wide-ranging network of cameras that various security companies can plug into and gain access. These cameras have licence-plate recognition technology and assist security companies and law enforcement trace hijacked vehicles and stolen vehicles.

Vumacam chief executive Ricky Croock said they were keenly aware of the privacy debate and are very careful with the data they collect.

“We look at the anonymisation of data and we really interested in understanding situational awareness and things that are happening outside the norm. And then giving it to security companies who can then have a look at it, validate it and decide whether they are going to dispatch a vehicle or not.”

Croock confirmed that there were no by-laws in Joburg regulating CCTV camera’s and that the technology far surpassed the bounds of current legislation.

Croock added: “The cameras generate a lot of data with only 1% of that being vehicles of interest or unusual behaviour which is flagged in the control room. The rest of the 99% of that footage gets flushed out of the system without anyone looking at it.”

In the absence of any legislation, data from CCTV cameras is stored for 60 days and then deleted.