Vumacam wins big court battle over “spy camera” accusations

Jamie McKane 21 August 2020

Vumacam has won a court battle against the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), which accused it of spying on innocent people and selling the footage to third parties.

In a judgement handed down by the Gauteng High Court on 20 August, the court ruled against the JRA, which had refused to grant wayleaves to Vumacam for the expansion of its security camera network in the City of Johannesburg.

Vumacam is a Vumatel-owned security camera company which leverages the fibre network’s infrastructure to deploy a network of pole-mounted street cameras across the city.

These cameras are deployed with the aim of combatting crime in the city, and the company previously told MyBroadband that they have proven very effective in this endeavour.

The JRA had suspended the issuance of wayleaves to Vumacam earlier this year, however, arguing that Vumacam’s goal in installing the cameras was to surveil the movements of innocent people and sell the footage to third parties.

It referred to the surveillance as “spy footage” which is tradeable in the hands of Vumacam, and alleged that the prevention and detection of crime is not the primary reason for the installation of the security cameras across the city.

“The essence of the JRA’s cases is that Vumacam is spying on an individual’s movements and thereby infringing their rights to privacy,” the judgement stated.

Fight over wayleave applications

Vumacam has historically encountered little difficulty in obtaining wayleaves from the JRA for the erection of its pole and camera infrastructure.

These wayleaves were always issued within 48 hours following application, but in April 2019 the JRA began increasing or changing the requirements on an ad-hoc basis.

“This caused some tension between Vumacam and JRA, which was resolved in September 2019. Vumacam was able to secure 64 wayleaves for CCTV purposes between October 2019 and March 2020,” the judgement said.

The JRA’s wayleave department temporarily closed from 20 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and upon reopening on 9 June, it announced that it would not accept wayleave applications for aerial and CCTV installations.

These applications were “suspended until further notice”, an act which prevented Vumacam from further rolling out its CCTV network.

The Gauteng High Court has now ruled that the JRA’s decision to suspend these wayleave applications was unlawful, ordering the agency to resume processing these wayleave applications.

The JRA has also been directed to issue Vumacam with a decision on the outstanding wayleave applications by 27 August.

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