DUBAI // A federal law standardising rules for the installation and use of surveillance systems is nearing the final stages.
Currently, each emirate has its own rules governing the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and other surveillance gear.
The new law will outline which establishments, such as banks and jewellery stores, need to have CCTV cameras, and will also list places, such as changing rooms and beauty salons, where such cameras are prohibited.
A draft law, currently with the Ministry of Interior Legal Affairs Department, will later be handed to the Cabinet for approval.
At present standards vary among the emirates. Some have well-developed criteria for where cameras are mandatory and how they should be installed, while others have hardly any guidelines.
Lieutenant Colonel Khalifa al Saleis, deputy head of the Ministry of Interior committee formed last year to develop the law, said: "We want to implement the law in the different emirates to ensure a unified security level."
The federal law will also require pre-approval from authorities before the installation of any security camera. And it will prescribe penalties for those violating the law, such as a Dh20,000 fines for anyone installing a camera in a prohibited place.
Additionally, it will outline criteria for how data is recorded and stored, and when authorities may have access to it, according to Lt Col al Saleis.
Harshad Rashid, marketing manager at Transwall Technologies, a company that installs and maintains surveillance systems, said there is definitely a need for unified criteria.
"In Dubai, there are very specific standards for installation. In other places, especially in the Northern Emirates, the clients are the ones to propose where the cameras should be placed and this can alter security."
A Sharjah Police spokesman said, "We believe the federal government's initiative to make a law of this would force more companies to install these cameras and help keep the country safer."
He added that they currently "encouraged" some businesses to install cameras that are directly connected to the police operations room.
Police in Ajman also encourage certain establishments to install cameras. "All 24 banks operating in the emirate have already installed the surveillance cameras linked to the police operations room," said Brigadier Ali Alwan, the director general of Ajman police.
Lt Col al Saleis noted however that connecting all CCTV cameras in the country to police operations rooms was not an option currently on the table.
"One needs to ask what the advantage of such a move would be. To oversee large numbers of cameras would overwhelm any operation room, and it would also be a costly matter," he said.
"What we are looking into right now is temporary connections in an emergency situation that could be linked to an early alarm system. But this is still a proposal."
The role of CCTV footage in solving recent high-profile cases such as the murder of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim and the assassination of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh, proved to be a boon to the development of the law.
In Abu Dhabi, security experts estimate that half of all public places are monitored by cameras. They said the coverage would likely increase to 90 per cent of the capital by the third quarter of this year.
Last year, the capital announced its intention to build a Dh33 million network of surveillance towers that would be equipped with radar-enabled cameras linked to a central communications system. The project is intended to protect the emirate's critical infrastructure assets.
In Dubai, according to the latest statistics, there are currently 25,000 CCTV cameras.
* With additional reporting by Yasin Kakande