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A worker installs a CCTV camera in Tamar. The city plans to install 2,000 cameras by the end of 2024. Photo: Felix Wong

Hong Kong police chief Raymond Siu backs government plan to install 2,000 surveillance cameras by end of year

  • Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu says 7.3 million surveillance cameras installed throughout UK since 1990s, adding Singaporeans also welcomed such measure
  • Hong Kong plans to install 2,000 CCTV cameras in densely populated parts and high-crime areas to combat crimes and ensure residents’ safety

Hong Kong’s police chief has defended a government plan to install 2,000 CCTV cameras across the city, arguing it is a “very common measure” overseas and claiming many Singaporeans, for instance, have asked for such a move.

But lawmakers on Monday called on the force to provide more details of the surveillance system to ease public concern over privacy while studying the experiences of other jurisdictions.

Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee said the purpose of setting up surveillance cameras in Hong Kong was to combat crimes and ensure residents’ safety. He pointed to the 7.3 million surveillance cameras the United Kingdom had installed since the 1990s and said that people in Singapore had also welcomed them.

“We should not forget that in many Western countries, many places have been installing CCTV,” he said. “I have heard from a Singaporean police officer that many residents there hope the government sets up CCTVs where they live.”

Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu says the purpose of CCTV cameras is to combat crimes. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Authorities would install 615 cameras in the city’s public areas by next month and 2,000 in total by the end of the year.

The government’s plan to install the cameras in densely populated areas and high-crime areas was revealed by Deputy Chief Secretary Warner Cheuk Wing-hing last month.

Siu earlier said the force was still going through the operational procedures and would consult the city’s privacy watchdog about data protection, but added it would not rule out the possibility of using facial recognition in the surveillance system in the future.

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The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data told the Post it would not comment on individual cases.

“All organisations, as data users, should abide by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the data protection principles when collecting, retaining, processing or using personal data,” the watchdog said.

It added relevant organisations had to ensure data collecting was carried out lawfully and fairly, while relevant organisations must take all possible practical steps to notify the parties affected.

The watchdog’s CCTV surveillance guideline stresses that data users should only use facial recognition technology for significant reasons.

“Any facial recognition system used in conjunction with CCTV must be supported by strong justification as the use of CCTV to enable automatic identification and tracking of individuals captured on CCTV footage is not normally expected by the public,” the document said.

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It also states that relevant organisations should give due consideration to using “less privacy-intrusive” arrangements or alternatives that achieve the same aim.

The UK and Singapore are among places that rely heavily on CCTV surveillance. The figures cited by Siu suggest Britain, with a population of about 67 million, has about one CCTV camera for every nine people.

According to the British guidelines on police use of facial recognition technology, live videos of crowds passing a camera will be compared with a designated list of offenders wanted by authorities. They would immediately and automatically delete biometric data of anyone who does not match with a person on the watch list.

CCTV camera in Central. Authorities will install 615 cameras in the city’s public areas by next month. Photo: Jonathan Wong

British authorities had also set out the circumstances in which the technology could be used and the groups of people that could be searched for. The force must also comply with data protection and human rights laws.

Police in Singapore, meanwhile, are planning to increase the number of CCTV cameras installed from more than 90,000 to 200,000 by 2030, while vowing that strict data protection safeguards were in place.

It stressed CCTV footage would be securely stored and deleted after 31 days from the recording date unless an investigation was required.

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Lawmaker Johnny Ng Kit-chong, deputy chairman of the legislature’s panel on commerce, industry, innovation and technology, said Hong Kong police could consider offering more details of the surveillance system to ease public concern, such as the default period of keeping footage and whether cameras could identify faces.

The lawmaker also said the force could take reference from practices in other jurisdictions, adding the actual proposal would depend on how the force hoped to use the data.

He expressed confidence that local police would strike a balance between safeguarding privacy and using technology to crack cases.