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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: October 25, 2010 NO. 43 OCTOBER 28, 2010
Is It OK to Install Video Cameras in Taxicabs?
People keep raising questions about how cameras can be managed to ensure citizen privacy. Of course, these cameras could infringe on personal privacy. However, there is no absolute privacy in the world. Why should we act naturally in front of an ATM machine, yet resist the idea of having a camera in our cab? It is because we haven't gotten used to the idea. In terms of protecting our privacy, we should always take precautions, including when we are at home, where we can also be spied on or photographed.

Meanwhile, we cannot deny that surveillance cameras have played a significant role in maintaining public safety. Electronic eyes are bound to appear in more and more places. Cameras in a cab can deter criminals and make drivers feel safer. And I doubt people could lose much privacy during a cab ride.

Just like other hi-tech gadgets used to assist public administration and save manpower, cameras also have shortcomings. But just as we cannot give up driving cars and traveling by air simply because there are car accidents and air crashes, we also cannot abandon using surveillance cameras.

The important thing is to draft laws and regulations to govern the use of these cameras.

Shu Shengxiang (Xinhua Daily Telegraph): Taxis are a tool of public transport, and they accept anyone who pays. Installing cameras on cabs would help to deter criminals, provide the police with useful clues to clear up criminal cases and sometimes help passengers find lost items. How much privacy does an ordinary person expect in a taxicab? As long as the relevant departments inform the public of the installation and listen to opinions, and as long as the public has access to a clear information channel, the installation will not only win support from most of the public but will also minimize the negative effects of this policy.

Respect citizens' privacy

Shi Yanping (West China Metropolis Daily): The dispute over taxi cameras derives from the difference in opinion between the authorities and the public. The authorities believe this practice can help ensure the safety of drivers and passengers, while the public tends to feel uneasy knowing a camera is watching closely. They believe this is a violation of a citizen's privacy.

Is this the only way to ensure people's safety? All taxi drivers are under the control of taxi companies and if they are dishonest with meters, the price authorities will interfere. Likewise, the passengers' immoral practices will disappear not because of taxi cameras, but due to the improvement of the overall social moral standard.

The standardization of the taxi industry is a comprehensive problem, and the camera system alone will be unable to solve the problem. It's unwise to sacrifice citizens' privacy right for this purpose.

It's terrible to face up to a social environment where video cameras are omnipresent. How careful every person must be! After all, to install taxi cameras is not the only way to ensure cabdriver and passenger safety. It's not necessary for people to pay so huge a price for this purpose.

The installation of taxi cameras implies inaction and laziness in the relevant departments. Sometimes, authorities only care about management efficiency and neglect citizens' rights.

Liu Wu (City Evening News): Since cabs are public transportation tools, we could regard the space inside them as public space. However, the nature of the space inside a cab is different from that of a regular public place. Compared to buses, trains, planes and ships, where passengers are usually strangers, cabs carry one person or several people with close relationship. The space is more exclusive and falls somewhere between a private space and public space. Once surveillance equipment is installed, passenger privacy will be inevitably infringed upon.

The debate over whether surveillance equipment can be installed in a cab boils down to whether that space is public or private space. Since there is no clear answer to this question, we must take a more pragmatic middle approach: surveillance equipment may be installed but there must be strict limitations on who can access the videos. This approach should both deter crimes targeted at cab drivers and protect personal privacy.

This middle approach is actually not as practical as it seems, though. There is no omnipotent technology. The surveillance system on cabs can be easily disabled. People's obsession with digital surveillance systems can lead to abuse. The environment with ubiquitous cameras is a potential threat to the integrity of people's dignity and sense of freedom. Living in such a stressful environment will definitely lead to unhealthy mental states and pose all kinds of risks to society. Making technical progress is essential to improving humankind's welfare. If the cost of the technical development is people's happiness, the development becomes meaningless.

Currently, the abuse of personal information and privacy for economic interests hasn't been curbed by the prohibition of new laws. Even if there was a law detailing conditions when the contents of the cab surveillance system can be accessed and used, it won't guarantee that citizens' privacy would be effectively protected. Thus we should try to minimize the installation of new surveillance systems in the future.

Wang Lin (The Beijing News): The key to whether the systems should be installed in cabs hinges on how we perceive the nature of space inside a cab and whether the system is necessary for maintaining public safety.

Although cabs are a tool of public transportation, the lease relationship between rider and driver forbids the existence of monitoring equipment, just like in a hotel room.

To protect the cab driver safety, surveillance on drivers is acceptable, but surveillance on passengers should be used caution. Although monitoring passengers may improve the safety of drivers, the installation of cameras should be reconsidered and weighed against the violation of personal privacy.

Yang Tao (Xi'an Evening News): Installing a video camera in a cab could violate passengers' rights to know, portrait rights and rights to privacy. Passengers' personal information and intimate acts recorded in cabs could even be posted on the Internet or shown at other public places.

In order to maintain public safety, maybe we really need to install cameras in cabs at the cost of citizens' privacy. However, public safety cannot ride above citizens' rights all the time and we need to strike a balance between the two.


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