Sunday, August 9 2020


The era of surveillance technology

Update: October, 06/2019 - 08:47
Illustration by Trịnh Lập

By Lương Vân Lam

My parents in the northern province of Ninh Bình have recently spent VNĐ12 million (US$517) on installing CCTV around their house.

I only became aware of the plan after receiving a cryptic message from my mother, who phoned me shortly afterwards. It was the password for the new cameras so I could log in online and check them.

“Our family has installed four cameras so we have views of the inside, outside, back and front of the house,” she said. 

“Why did you have to spend so much when there are only two of you and a few chickens?” was my reply.

“We want to feel secure. There have been several break-ins recently, and some of the neighbours have installed up to eight cameras,” my mother replied.

The use of surveillance technology is becoming increasingly more common.

Most of my colleagues and friends are constantly checking what their kids are up to at school via video surveillance while they are still sitting in the office. Some even use location applications to keep track of their children, or video surveillance to supervise their housemaids.

In offices, stores, supermarkets and even on the streets, you're not going to be far being caught by a camera.

I was kind of interested at first thanks to the feeling of security this technology offered, but now I feel sad. If there weren't so many cases of violence towards children, students and the elderly, would surveillance technology be so widespread now?

In my MA thesis, I conducted a survey comparing the opinions and intentions of using devices to locate children between Vietnamese and Dutch parents.

The results revealed that in comparison to Dutch parents, Vietnamese hold a stronger belief that location devices will contribute to their children’s safety without their presence.

Among 220 Vietnamese parents surveyed, 145 people argued that location technology helped to prevent their children from danger and 104 planned to use it. Meanwhile, only 48 among 223 Dutch parents agreed with that opinion, and just 41 were intending to use it.

My survey also suggested that the reason for such differences is that the Traffic Security Index and Social Trust Index in Việt Nam are lower than in the Netherlands.

A report on global road traffic safety in 2015 showed that Việt Nam had a much higher mortality rate than the Netherlands.

According to analysis of social trust released by Torpe and Lolle in 2011, Việt Nam ranked 25th while the Netherlands ranked 9th among the 52 evaluated countries.

The way we view and use surveillance technology reflect on the society we are living in. In an environment where people feel insecure or lack mutual trust, they will cling to surveillance as a means to feel protected. On the contrary, in a place where people have peace of mind, they would not depend too much on these devices.

Surveillance devices undeniably help to reduce the crime level and help catch the perpetrators. However, there is no research that has found a clear relation between the use of surveillance devices and a sustainable reduction of bad behaviour.

According to a report by Big Brother Watch, although London has one of the densest networks of surveillance cameras in the world, its crime rate has remained nearly unchanged since the network was installed in the 1980s.

The technology could also make potential criminals warier, but on the other hand it could not ensure life is safer and better. To some extent, we would fall into order if we knew we were being observed, and only commit a crime when we know we are out of view from the cameras.

For example, in my friend’s office, a camera has recently been installed at the main entrance to monitor staff attendance. Not long after that, a side entrance that was rarely used suddenly reopened.

The use of surveillance technology does not deal with the origins of social problems. For instance, the Department of Education of HCM City has suggested installing cameras in kindergartens where cases of child abuse have been reported, but the solution will only provide temporary peace of mind.

The root causes that need to be dealt with are tense working environments and inadequate incentives for teachers such as healthcare, which, however, are rarely mentioned.

HCM City is also installing video cameras in public places which cost millions of đồng, but there are no figures that prove they will reduce the crime rate.

If I was asked whether I would install a video surveillance camera at home or choose a school with video surveillance for my kids, I would still say yes, because finally, I’m still an individual affected by general trends.

While the origins of issues like school violence, social insecurity and a lack of trust among people still remain, I have no other choice but to rely on surveillance technology to set my mind at rest - at least for the short term. VNS




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