Municipal councillor for the Tetúan and Moncloa districts of Madrid, Montserrat Galcerán Huguet explains why the city decided to commit to guaranteeing the respect of privacy and fundamental rights in the use of video-surveillance.
Why did the city of Madrid choose to adopt the Charter for a Democratic Use of Video-surveillance?
Because the Charter is an excellent tool for using video-surveillance in order to create safer cities without falling into 24/7 surveillance. I think that liberal criminology makes an erroneous analysis when it says that if an offender is certain to be arrested, they will renounce to commit an offence. This doesn’t take into account the fact that in many cases, the origin of a crime, and particularly theft, is the need for money.
Furthermore, studies show that once cameras are installed, the crime rate in the concerned zone does decrease, but after a while, when criminals have included video-surveillance as another element of the urban landscape, the rates tend to rise back to the previous level. This shows that problems are displaced temporarily to adjacent streets before moving back to the place of origin.
This said, it is true that for a majority of the population video-surveillance does make people feel safer. But it cannot be a decisive factor in the prevention or resolution of crime, even though it does contribute to it.
Several factors must be taken into account: the managers of such surveillance systems must make sure they do not infringe on fundamental rights. Also, our right to privacy does not cease when we go out in the street. Indeed, anonymity is one of the advantages of living in a city.
At the end of the day, we must answer a difficult question: what is the best way to reconcile our need for security and the need to respect and protect individual rights? Technology in itself does not pose a risk, but the way it is used can.
The studies conducted so far show that results must be assessed according to the specific context in which the cameras are deployed. It is necessary to take into account the nature and dimension of the territory under surveillance, its population and its needs, which must be identified through a proper security audit.
All the experts and professionals recognise that video surveillance is not a silver bullet that can solve all the security issues of a city, but rather a tool among others as part of a global security policy.
One of the principles of the Charter is that deploying a video-surveillance system must not be an end in itself. What were the specific context and needs that led Madrid to install cameras in public spaces?
The first video-surveillance systems were installed in Madrid in 2005, and there are now 147 cameras in the city centre. The previous municipal team presented video-surveillance as a key aspect of its security policy. We do not wish to follow suit, although we do recognise that such systems can contribute to increasing the subjective feeling of security.
The previous municipal team took this decision for several reasons. Firstly, the city centre, where thousands of people gather every day, had higher rates of burglaries and muggings than average in the city. Also, they wanted to protect the artworks of the Open Air Museum (Museo al Aire Libre), which are exhibited outdoors.
The current municipal team decided, upon request from the municipal council of the district of Tetúan, to install video cameras in the area of Bellas Vistas. It was a difficult decision because we didn’t want to continue this policy but there was a vote in the district municipal council and residents were very much in favour of it. Bellas Vistas is an area with a high crime rate, and indeed a young man was recently killed in a shootout.
What are the specificities of Madrid’s video-surveillance system, and what are the objectives?
In Madrid, video-surveillance is managed by the municipal police and can be accessed in all the areas where there are cameras. All the images are centralised in the Integrated Video Signal Centre (Centro Integrado de Señales de Video, CISEVI). The objectives are: to reduce response time in case of incident; to be able to view all the images upon request; to send images to mobile units; to access images from police apps; to share the available means of the Centre, and to automatically detect incidents.
Cameras must be authorised by the Delegation of the Government of Madrid, upon favourable opinion of the Commission for Guarantees in Video-surveillance (Comisión de Garantías de Vídeo Vigilancia). This shows the Spanish system has important safeguards.
Cameras are only authorised in specific neighbourhoods, in particular in the city centre and in tourist areas. Also, street signs alert people about the presence of cameras, in accordance with the Law for the Protection of Personal Data.
Transparency is one of the principles of the Charter for a Democratic Use of Video-surveillance. What mechanisms does the city of Madrid use in this respect?
Any citizen can access the images if needed, for example when victim of a burglary or sexual harassment or other type of attack. This kind of proof can be key to solving the case. Cameras can also be used to denounce bad police practice. We have received a number of requests from people who were victim of police abuse and we did give them the images.
We are contemplating following the example of Rotterdam where, each time a new camera is installed, all involved parties and notably residents are invited to visit the control centre. This is very appreciated and gives good results. Also, our signage complies with the relevant legislation.
Another aspect of the Charter is citizen participation in the development and evaluation of such systems. What measures are in place in Madrid in this respect (identifying local needs, evaluating the system)?
Indeed, local residents requested video-surveillance cameras because they thought it would improve the situation in their neighbourhood.
Regarding evaluation, it is important to distinguish statistical data, an area under the jurisdiction of the municipal police, and mechanisms to measure how local residents feel about the pros and cons of video-surveillance.
 The Madrid City Council was at the time governed by the conservative Partido Popular, up until the 2015 municipal elections, won by Podemos (left).
 The autonomous government of Madrid, which is one of Spain’s 17 Autonomous Communities.