JRA appeals order over rollout of CCTV cameras

Johannesburg's "spy" camera saga is far from over, with the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) appealing a court order to consider applications for installation of a privately operated surveillance system in public spaces. Vumacam, the company rolling out the artificial intelligence-equipped system in Johannesburg suburbs, had convinced the High Court in Johannesburg to force JRA to consider its applications to use the road reserves to mount its cameras. The roads agency had until yesterday to decide on Vumacam's "wayleaves" applications and provide the company with reasons if these were not approved. "This appeal impacts the rollout of cameras and infrastructure to...
Johannesburg's "spy" camera saga is far from over, with the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) appealing a court order to consider applications for installation of a privately operated surveillance system in public spaces.

Vumacam, the company rolling out the artificial intelligence-equipped system in Johannesburg suburbs, had convinced the High Court in Johannesburg to force JRA to consider its applications to use the road reserves to mount its cameras. The roads agency had until yesterday to decide on Vumacam's "wayleaves" applications and provide the company with reasons if these were not approved.

"This appeal impacts the rollout of cameras and infrastructure to provide surveillance support in crime-fighting efforts," said Vumacam boss Ricky Croock.

Court papers show that between October 2019 and April 2020, the JRA granted Vumacam a total of 64 wayleaves for closed-circuit television (CCTV) to fight crime, but suspended the process last year as there was no public CCTV policy. Croock said the suspension of the applications process, which has been declared invalid and set aside, had significantly delayed their installation efforts which, he said, impacted on the ability to fight crime.

Civic rights advocate Right2Know Campaign (R2K), which has rejected the system as illegal, intrusive and reminiscent of the apartheid pass laws used to control the movement of black people, said it was delighted by the decision.

"It was a very short-lived victory for Vumacam as the [JRA] will come back even harder with the argument against issuing the wayleaves," said resident and R2K activist Gavin Borrageiro.

Borrageiro said the JRA could still refuse the applications but that it would have been difficult to explain its reasons as JRA had approved such wayleaves before.

"It was so narrow you cannot call it victory. All it says is JRA has to process their wayleaves. Does not have to say they have to approve them or accept them or that JRA cannot decline them," he added.

According to Borrageiro, there are currently 58 such "illegal" smart cameras in Lonehill alone operated by the Lonehill Residents Association (LRA). He said JRA cancelled LRA wayleaves before the moratorium on aerial and CCTV wayleaves was issued.

"This essentially means all the LRA structures are illegal as they stand now and the fact that the appeal might take another two months, the LRA is in an even worse position than Vumacam because they have no existing wayleaves," Borrageiro said.

When contacted for comment, LRA general manager Keith Rampton wanted to know if The Citizen was now dealing with complaints.

"I have not had sight of the complaint from the Right2Know Campaign. Please forward it so we can comment," he said.

The LRA also operates an artificial intelligence camera at the Lonehill Dam Park, which has sparked concerns around the rights and privacy of children as the camera was filming the facility's play area.

siphom@citizen.co.za

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