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The planned installation of surveillance cameras in stores throughout Shanghai has sparked a debate on how to strengthen public security, while also protecting personal privacy.

The Shanghai municipal bureau of quality and technical supervision has mandated that surveillance cameras be installed in all supermarkets and convenience stores in the city by Oct 1.

"The number of robberies reported by police has been steadily rising in recent years," a bureau official surnamed Ni said.

Reports of late-night robberies are a particular concern, he said.

Many convenience stores in Shanghai remain open 24 hours.

"We hope the 24-hour supervision will scare away criminals," Ni said.

Some storekeepers said an enhanced surveillance system would increase their sense of personal security.

"I feel much safer with cameras guarding our store, especially when I'm on a night shift," 26-year-old Gu Jiaqi, who works in a C-store near the city center, said.

However, some observers have raised concerns about how the initiative will be implemented.

"From a commercial point of view, the cameras are a precautionary measure against potential economic losses from theft," Yu Hai, a professor at the School of Social Development & Public Policy of Fudan University, said.

"But at the same time, they track citizens' personal information, just like a documentary," he said.

Yu pointed to the example of an infamous video of a couple kissing on a subway platform.

The video was recorded by a surveillance camera of the subway operator in January.

It was later uploaded to the Internet, without authorization, by an employee of Shanghai Metro Operation.

The incident triggered public discussion in Shanghai over the potential abuse of videos recorded by surveillance cameras.

"We need a better system to store and regulate the use of those videotapes," Yu said.

The surveillance camera initiative is part of a broader effort to tighten security prior to the 2010 Shanghai Expo, Ni said.

The Shanghai government has also increased security checks at airports, railway stations and subway stations from this year.

Last year, Shanghai police began using sniffer dogs trained to detect explosives at subway stations.

Supermarkets and convenience stores in the city will have to bear the installation costs of the video systems.

The cost will be between 1,000 yuan ($145) and 2,000 yuan, Ni said.

Some stores owners said they thought the cost might be higher.

"The initial installment costs 3,500 yuan, but we have to pay 100 yuan a month for the rental fee," a worker at the Shanghai Hualian Supermarket Corp, who declined to give his name, said.

Many stores are already equipped with surveillance devices, Ni said.

There are between 3,000 and 4,000 convenience stores in Shanghai, he said.

(China Daily June 27, 2008)

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