Big Brother watches: cameras in Chinese city taxi

September 23rd, 2010 - 2:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Sep 23 (IANS) Surveillance cameras and alarm systems installed in taxis in a Chinese city are supposed to help police know what’s going on inside the cab but are making passengers very uncomfortable.
A passenger named Han Yun said she felt “unsettled” when she discovered a camera in front of a passenger seat of the taxi she was travelling in.

“It makes me uncomfortable, I feel like I’m being watched all the time,” she complained.

Han is among many residents in Wuhu city in Anhui province who are against the installation of surveillance cameras, Xinhua reported. nder a plan mapped out by the taxi management department of Wuhu, a device combining a global positioning system (GPS) and a camera will have to be installed in all of the city’s 3,000 taxies by October.

Yao Aihui, director of the department, said the camera would be activated whenever the driver switched on the taxi meter. Audio-visual recordings would be made of each trip.

“If the taxi driver comes in danger, he can push an alarm button in the taxi, and the surveillance centre will be alerted immediately. A distress signal - ‘Being robbed, please call the police’ - will appear on a screen at the rear of the taxi,” Yao said.

“Although crimes in taxis are not very common in the city, being a taxi driver is a high risk job, especially at nights,” he said.

Li Ning, a local taxi driver, supported the installation of the cameras.

“Working at night can be very dangerous for us. Without such protection, I would avoid taking drunk men and idle punks. Those people might cause trouble and could even jeopardise the driver’s life,” he said.

Wang Yuanyuan, an employee of a public institution, supports the move as she thinks the monitoring would help passengers retrieve their goods left behind in taxis.

Yao also said through a GPS monitoring platform, police can locate a taxi within five minutes after receiving an emergency call, including its route, time and speed.

If a passenger forgot to get the taxi fare receipt, police can find the taxi based on the time of drop-off and destination.

Even so, most residents oppose the move.

Yang Yu, a university student, questioned whether there wasn’t another way to keep taxis safe.

“I feel like I’m being watched by someone, and my privacy violated. I think there must be more passenger-friendly ways,” said Yang.

A lawyer named Wang Jun said taxis were a more personal means of transport.

If passengers’ audio-visual records were disclosed or spread for profits, then the passenger’s privacy and other rights would be violated, said Wang.

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