Weeks after unveiling a major security project that involved the placement of over 100 cameras across the city, the administration is now assuring that there is nothing nefarious in the facial recognition capabilities.
It stated that the information involved with citizens is not being shared.
According to the Ministry of Public Telecommunications yesterday, privacy concerns have been raised over possible facial recognition and tracking technologies used by cameras currently being installed as part of the Safe City Component of our National Broadband Project.
“We are pleased that many persons recall that the Ministry of Public Telecommunications first introduced this initiative to the nation more than two years ago as a valuable resource for the security forces in their fight against crime. We now reiterate that the new system is designed solely for everyone’s safety and security, and is not intended to infringe on an individual’s right to privacy,” the ministry assured.
It was explained that the Safe City initiative provides for the construction of an integrated National Emergency Response Command Centre (NERCC) with a network of CCTV cameras located around Georgetown.
Guyanese operators of the Command Centre are currently being trained by a consulting team of British security experts who are developing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guide the operations of the Centre.
According to the ministry, the Safe City programme operates on an independent government-owned fibre optic network managed by the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), an agency of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications.
It was assured that the system is protected from hacking.
“It has no points of entry or gateways for any third party – individuals or companies. This network is physically independent with all trunking and cabling standing alone. It is physically isolated from the eGovernment platform which provides connectivity to Government institutions, agencies, schools, health and other public facilities.”
In fact, the ministry said, access to the CCTV network of cameras is only possible by authorized security personnel who are stringently vetted before they are assigned to the NERCC.
“Their operations will be guided by the standard operating procedures (SOPs) being developed by the consulting team of UK security experts. These procedures will include adherence to an agreed set of security standards and operating practices, with strict, limited and supervised access to the operations of the Command Centre. Strong penalties are in place for persons who breach these requirements.”
The ministry explained that under this project, facial recognition technology will only be deployed at the official ports of entry in Guyana- Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri; Eugene F. Correia International Airport, at Ogle, and the Moleson Creek Ferry Crossing, Corentyne, Berbice.
The ports’ cameras have different capabilities, it was pointed out.
“The specialized cameras at the official ports are very different from the CCTV cameras erected in public spaces. These cameras are the only ones capable of comparing images generated from automatic facial recognition software against databases administered by the Guyana Police Force, and by recognized international security agencies that Guyana has bilateral relationships with. While the cameras installed on the streets are of extremely high quality, they are not equipped for automatic facial recognition.”
The ministry made it clear that the Government of Guyana has no plans to install specialized facial recognition cameras in city streets anytime in the foreseeable future.
“We also wish to assure the public that personal data stored by agencies such as the Central Immigration and Passport Office, Guyana Elections Commission and Guyana Revenue Authority, have not been and will not be shared under this project. In fact, the laws and regulations that govern these agencies prevent unauthorised sharing of such data.”
It was stressed that in a post 9/11 world of heightened security, facial recognition at ports of entry is now an international standard that most of the travelling public is aware of and subjects itself to.
“The technologies and equipment installed in this Safe City project will remain in the possession of the National Emergency Response Command Centre (NERCC), and will only be shared with local law enforcement and foreign countries with whom Guyana has bilateral agreements for security cooperation.”
With regards to the command centre, the ministry disclosed that its main purpose is to enhance the safety and security of communities by providing security services with increased operational capabilities.
Its objectives include efficient deployment of law enforcement staff; better multi-agency response to incidents and emergencies; increased success and efficiency in bringing criminals to justice; enhanced security coordination for major public events; efficient disaster management and increased awareness of threats to public security.
The idea is also to establish integrity of data and information for the Criminal Justice system; presentation of ‘hard’ evidence in court cases; improved response time for all emergency services and the establishment of a single response number, e.g. 911, for any emergency.
On July 26, 2019 Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes, under whose purview the Safe City initiative falls, took the media on a tour of the Network Operations Centre, explaining the project and its intentions.
The ministry said that for the first time, police and emergency services will have their own dedicated network for real-time communication to protect and assist the public, and for disaster relief.
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