Concern about privacy and monitoring device management is drawing great public debate after a video of a couple kissing at a Shanghai subway station entrance was posted on a website and became an instant hit.
The three-minute video received more than 10,000 hits after it was posted on the Internet on Monday. It captured the twenty-something couple, unaware of the camera, in a moment of passion.
"The behavior of the couple at the public venue was somewhat improper, but it was rather embarrassing for the video to be posted on the Internet," said Shanghai resident Deng Ke.
Subway authorities said they were investigating whether the video was made by subway staff using the monitoring cameras.
The monitoring system was installed in accordance with subway operation regulations, said a source from Shanghai Shentong Metro Co. Ltd, which runs the subway stop where the video was suspected to be shot.
"If it was really done by workers, the subway company will seriously deal with those involved and improve interior education and management," the source told Xinhua.
Such cameras are widely used in public venues, such as subways, banks, roads, elevators, supermarkets, hospitals and even taxis, mainly for ensuring security and tracking down criminals.
But there have been worries about whether the cameras infringe on privacy and if companies can properly protect the video data from being released to the public.
"If the video data cannot be handled properly, or is even released on the Internet maliciously, then people will have little sense of security," Deng said.
In some major Chinese cities, such as the southwestern Chongqing and northeastern Shenyang, the cameras have been widely installed in taxis.
"If the situation in the taxis is normal, pictures of passengers will be automatically deleted. It is only when drivers have alerted police will photos be preserved by the system," said Yan Bin, a Shenyang Communications Bureau official.
While discussing privacy, netizens also said the public, especially young couples, should behave properly at public venues. "It is better to be prudent in one's behavior than to blame others for immorality," said a netizen commenting on the case.
Zhou Binqing, a Shanghai Information Services Association legal expert, said it was also urgent to enhance surveillance on video websites.
"Many video programs are uploaded by netizens themselves. Website managers do not charge any fees nor do they have a strict censoring on the programs."
The expert said management of Internet audio-visual programs may be improved when a regulation issued by the country's broadcasting, film, TV and information industry authorities takes effect on Jan. 31.
The administrative provisions on Internet audio-visual program service, stipulates such programs should not humiliate or slander others, or infringe on citizens' legal rights and interests such as privacy.
Those who spread programs violating the provisions can be fined up to a maximum 30,000 yuan (4,150 U.S. dollars).
"The implementation will play an active part in the standard management of audio-visual program websites and the spreading of such programs," Zhou said.
(Xinhua News Agency January 20, 2008)