x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Surveillance cameras to double

Hi-tech system is supposed to solve Dubai's traffic issues and help direct its flow, not spy on people, assures planning director.

CCTV cameras in use at the Lamcy Plaza in Dubai.
CCTV cameras in use at the Lamcy Plaza in Dubai.

DUBAI // The number of surveillance cameras in the city is to double with an advanced network of wireless cameras to aid crime investigations and monitor traffic. An official at Dubai Police confirmed yesterday that some of the cameras, which can be moved around unlike the older devices, are already in place and have helped police issue fines and arrest people committing traffic offences.

"The new system will be incorporated into the current system that already monitors traffic signals and some highways, and is another step in ensuring the complete safety for Dubai residents from traffic offenders and criminals," a police spokesman said. Once completely installed, the new system would "more than double" the 232 cameras in action at traffic lights and some highways, the spokesman said.

Mobile and interchangeable cameras will also monitor public areas. The hi-tech surveillance system, which is being developed by a US company to the specifications of the Roads and Transport Authority and the Dubai Police, will use the latest in wireless technology, so a fibre optic cable network will not be needed. The system would be used alongside closed-circuit TV networks installed around Dubai developments, such as the Dubai Marina network, where footage taken at the time of the Lebanese singer Suzan Tamim's murder will be used as part of the prosecutors' case.

Network blueprints seen by The National show that other security agencies could also tap into the system and monitor roads and commuters when needed. The wireless cameras have been designed specifically to last in Dubai's hot summer months, when temperatures reach as high as 55C. Police patrols would also have access to live footage in their vehicles on hi-tech wireless interceptors, tapping directly into receivers to view camera footage while keeping a low profile.

Other government departments, such as the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, would also have access to the system to help plan for maintenance. The cameras would transmit footage to network towers in various Dubai districts, then on to the Traffic Signal Control Centre at Bani Yas, which would monitor traffic from an advanced control room. The centre is to hire more people to man the new network.

The system would also be protected from hackers through the latest firewall technology designed specifically for the project. Thamer Rashed al Qasemi, the planning director for the Emirates Identity Authority, who is responsible for bringing in the identification card scheme, played down talk of a "big brother" network. "This new system… is meant to solve our traffic issues and direct traffic flow, not to spy on people," Mr Qasemi said. "As far as I am aware, it is still being planned."

The new system is expected to be announced next year and Dubai road users have reacted warmly to the plan. "This is a great move and I have nothing to fear that this technology will be used to monitor our journeys," Khaled Taha, a project manager who often drives on Dubai roads, said. "In fact, I think it would help in easing traffic congestion. I have nothing to hide, so I am not worried." Other residents feel the network will make the streets safer.

"I guess I would feel more safe as long as there is a guarantee they would only use footage to follow up on serious cases of terrorism and such, and not to hassle you on every little thing you do, like crossing a red light at 3am or littering," said a 30-year-old Lebanese expatriate woman who works in Dubai Media City. Of the 232 cameras already installed, 12 are in the Al Shindagha Tunnel, 111 in the Airport Tunnel and 109 on highways and at junctions with traffic lights.

shafez@thenational.ae