Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
Surveillance cameras installed around the city have been playing an increasingly important role in helping local authorities manage the city.
But the intersection of Youyi Road and Keshan Road in Baoshan district which was equipped with more than 50 surveillance cameras and lighting devices stirred media frenzy over the past week.
A photo of the cameras crammed together on a crossbar over the intersection went viral on the Internet. Shanghai Baokang Electronic Company, the manufacturer of the video cameras used for monitoring traffic, explained that they installed so many devices in one location because they are comparing them for testing purposes. The company chose to install the cameras at this intersection because it is the closest one to its office.
The company added that only 15 of the devices are cameras while the rest are flashlights and supporting equipment, and said that video footage will only be used internally to compare the devices and will not be stored or made public. However, the equipment still worried the public, who questioned whether a company, rather than the traffic police, had the right to set up surveillance devices in public areas, and complained that it violates privacy.
The company later acknowledged that it had not received written permission from local authorities to install the cameras, and following a public outcry, the company removed all the devices being tested.
Although the public's privacy seems to be protected, the public's safety cannot be well protected without letting more advanced surveillance systems be developed and tested. Companies should be allowed to test new devices under the supervision of relevant authorities.
In a metropolis like Shanghai, which has heavy traffic flow, surveillance cameras across the city provide evidence for traffic police to crack down on violations and settle disputes on the roads. In 2012, road accidents caused 916 deaths, and the local traffic police issued penalties for 6.16 million traffic violations. A news report in 2009 reported that there were more than 1,700 fixed surveillance cameras on intersections supervising the roads around-the-clock and deterring traffic violations.
In addition to the traffic surveillance cameras, the city is covered by a monitoring network of around 42,000 closed-circuit television cameras connected to police station monitors around the city. With these devices, police officers can supervise the city in real time, helping to make Shanghai one of the safest cities in China.
The research and development of new surveillance and monitoring systems is necessary to the development of a city. However, such research and development should be supervised by the relevant authorities.
As a matter of fact, the devices that aroused controversy had been installed for nearly one year without any approval from authorities.
When reporters from the local news portal eastday.com were investigating which government department should have been in charge of approving such a project, they found it was very hard to identify a specific department. It was not clear whether an application should have been filed to the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, the Shanghai Urban Construction and Communications Commission, the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Afforestation and City Appearance, or the Shanghai Road Administration Bureau.
Excessive bureaucracy is a problem that hinders effective city management. That's why the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee vowed to transform local governments and push forward institutional reform early this year. Local government functions are expected to be transformed and streamlined to better serve the public.
The testing of new devices and technologies is beneficial to society. The authorities should determine which department is responsible for supervising such projects.