Hidden cams

Published June 10, 2024

THE Digital Rights Foundation has drawn attention to a disturbing trend that seems to only be ballooning instead of diminishing: the spying of women through hidden cameras in private spaces such as hostels, shelters, universities, and salons. These incidents, including the recent discovery of hidden cameras in a Lahore hostel bathroom and the 2019 University of Balochistan scandal, underscore the pervasive violation of the privacy and dignity of women. In the more conservative regions, the repercussions are particularly severe for women. Families, already wary of sending their daughters to educational institutions due to cultural sensitivities, may completely withdraw them from schools and universities. This will further exacerbate the gender disparity in education and employment. Pakistan, ranked 142 out of 146 countries in the 2023 Gender Gap Report, cannot afford such setbacks.

The implications of these privacy breaches are profound. These camera installations — under the pretence of security but only for the footage to be misused — foster an environment of mistrust and fear. Women, who seek refuge in these spaces to escape gender-based violence and societal surveillance, find themselves violated yet again. This not only impacts their mental well-being but also deters others from seeking necessary refuge. The government’s response has been inadequate. The DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline has recorded 16,849 complaints, with 58.5pc from women. The government must take immediate action. This includes thorough investigations into these incidents, stringent regulations on the installation and monitoring of CCTV cameras, and severe penalties for those who misuse surveillance technology. Moreover, the proposed data protection bill must be urgently reviewed and enacted, ensuring it is inclusive of women’s rights and digital rights groups’ recommendations. Ensuring the safety, privacy, and dignity of women is a legal and moral imperative. Women must live, study, and work without the fear of surveillance and exploitation.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2024

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