Here’s how Johannesburg security cameras track you


Source: Daily Maverick

By Heidi Swart • 8 September 2021

Vumacam is a security company with a rapidly expanding surveillance camera network across Joburg. This includes more than 2,000 automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) cameras recording the registration number of every passing vehicle — at a rate of 9.68 million per day. Vumacam vehemently denies its system tracks innocent drivers, despite the fact that ALPR cameras are designed to do exactly that. So, what is Vumacam really doing? Read our ALPR guide and decide for yourself.

Heidi Swart is a journalist who reports on surveillance and data privacy. This report was commissioned by the Media Policy and Democracy Project, an initiative of the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Journalism, Film and TV and Unisa’s Department of Communication Science.

For a monthly fee, private security companies can access Vumacam’s footage. Vumacam’s camera network is connected to the internet, allowing it to send footage to security companies’ monitoring rooms. If something untoward comes up, security guards can respond.

By June this year, Vumacam said its network had 2,262 automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) cameras continually scanning the licence plates of passing cars, looking for people connected to crime. All drivers’ licence plates are thus scanned and civil society has raised privacy concerns. But Vumacam has been clear that it’s “not in the business of tracking movements”.

Yet ALPR cameras are built for tracking. It’s one of the few things that the surveillance industry (SEE here AND here), law enforcement (here lawmakers AND here AND here ) and civil society (here AND here AND here ) seem to agree on. Usually, ALPR systems track cars entering and exiting parking lots, and government law enforcement uses them to track criminal suspects.

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