Many citizens in Amman consider CCTV and public cameras to be a crucial part of keeping track of population movements and combating crime and terrorism in the city, however in this modern time with all the security breaches and abuse of power, can we still rely on public cameras for our security or are they also being used as tools of surveillance? What are the laws that protect the right to privacy in public spheres in Jordan? And what are the practices of these laws?
There are many surveillance cameras around the city, some are for traffic control and some are surveillance cameras for safety and security.
Traffic control cameras in Amman are managed by the Traffic Control Center this center is managed by the Public Security Directorate and the Civil Defense and they share its management with the Greater Amman Municipality, with the so-called central signal control system and the television monitoring system, part of which is managed by Greater Amman Municipality in the Traffic Control Center The Traffic Control Center only manages traffic cameras and does not have access to other public cameras. Technically the traffic control cameras in Amman are only installed on traffic lights, on highways, streets, and tunnels, according to an informal interview conducted with Traffic Control Center employee; traffic cameras are always easy to see or to find, and every person has the right to ask for the cameras’ location and he assured that the cameras do not capture sensitive information, as soon as the cameras capture a picture, faces and plate numbers get pixelated, however when monitoring the live TV faces and plate numbers are clear enough to be recognisable.
There is also another entity that has access and control of cameras around Amman called Control and Operations Directorate, which is under the Public Security Directorate management; this entity is in charge of cameras located around the city, this department was first established as a result of the tragic 2005 Amman terrorist bombing to establish safety and security in the country's running operations to serve the public safety and activating oversight mechanisms to reach effective security services.
I have noticed while protesting in the recent civil protests that demand the removal of the Israeli Occupation’s Embassy in Amman near the Kalouti mosque in AlRabiyeh area which is the usual place for protesting against the existence of the Israeli Occupation Embassy due to proximity, that there are many surveillance cameras positioned all around the protest location, cameras, and antennas, this is alarming because we don’t know what these cameras are for, and who owns them. I have tried calling the units in charge of public cameras in Amman, such as the Greater Amman Municipality, the Civil Defence Department, and the Control and Operations Directorate, while also doing my research online no one responded or could answer this question.
Just to clarify that other than the Embassy the location is also near Orange Jordan which is a Jordanian public mobile telephone network operator, and is the operator of the mobile communications license granted to Jordan Telecom Also there are 3 traffic lights on this street, however, these cameras don’t look like normal traffic control cameras, and why are there antennas beside these cameras, the cameras are directly in front of the protest location, pictures of the cameras below.
For your safety, as we still don’t know the issues of these cameras, if you are an activist and you happen to join a protest in Kalouti, please make sure that you cover your face with a mask or a Hatta/Kouffiye/scarf even though the weather is extremely hot in summer but it’s always better to be safe than surveilled.
Privacy is an issue that concerns a lot of Jordanians, even though it is mentioned and protected in the Jordanian constitution, it is mentioned in Article 7 of the Constitution as “personal freedom shall be guaranteed.” and “Every infringement on rights and public freedoms or the inviolability of the private life of Jordanians are a crime punishable by law.”, And Article 18 of the constitution: “All postal and telegraphic correspondence, telephonic communications, and the other communications means shall be regarded as secret and shall not be subject to censorship, viewing, suspension or confiscation except by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law”, it is also very important to mention that Jordan, on the other hand, does not have a data protection law, and there is no general data protection authority which is something very critical to have especially in the terms of public cameras and CCTV.
Although Jordan does not have a current data protection law, in 2014 the ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship took the step to bring in legislation aimed at the protection of personal data, and the establishment of an assigned council for the privacy commission. In addition, a committee consisting of different ministries, governmental authorities, and civil society organizations, was formed to discuss the Draft Bill, An updated version of the Draft Bill was published on 15 January 2020 by the Legislation and Opinion Bureau, and it was delivered to the parliament this year for discussion, however, a final version has yet to be approved.
In addition to the constitutional rights to privacy, Jordan has signed a number of international agreements involving privacy concerns. These are some examples:
- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
- the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam; and
- the Arab Charter of Human Rights.
With more projects involving the processing of Jordanians' personal data and the increasing numbers of public cameras, Jordan must stress on the development and implementation of the Data Protection Law draft bill in a more comprehensive manner to secure the protection of its people's personal data through an open, inclusive, and transparent legislative process. the government must also be more transparent with public cameras in terms of management, data protection, and privacy.