Government official denies breaching employees’ privacy by installing CCTV in office

Director of government agency says he could not have breached privacy of female workers as their office is public.

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ABU DHABI // A senior government official and two subordinates are being prosecuted in court for installing closed-circuit TV cameras in a customer service area.

But the three deny breaching the privacy of female workers, saying the area is a public place.

A K, an Emirati director general of a government authority, and the agency’s Al Ain manager M A, are accused of installing the cameras and connecting them to a computer and phone.

P Y, a Lebanese IT official, is also charged.

A K’s lawyer said his client received a report two years ago that two female employees at the Al Ain branch were engaging in obscene and inappropriate behaviour in the office.

Ali Al Manna’i said the director sought advice from authorities, including his agency’s legal consultant, on placing surveillance cameras at the service centre and was told it was allowed.

“The goal of this action was to preserve the general order and to ward off wrongdoings, especially in Al Ain, which is a small conservative society that does not accept this type of behaviour,” Mr Al Manna’i said.

He said the footage only showed women working at the office, proving that his client had no bad intentions, that nobody’s privacy was breached and that no damage had been done.

Another lawyer representing A K asked the Misdemeanours Court to explain exactly what it meant by “hidden camera”.

He said the cameras were unseen by customers but were visible to staff, and were installed in more than 50 branches across the country.

“It is like the camera above the door of the courtroom on the exit sign,” the lawyer said. “It is well known that these are public places” but could still be monitored.

The Al Ain branch manager’s lawyer, Fayza Moussa, said her client was following orders to have the cameras installed at the centre through another company, which was to do the work after staff had left for the day.

“He could not have refused to follow the orders or object to them, and his position was only to supervise their application,” Ms Moussa said.

She said the cameras were connected to his work mobile, which belonged to the Government, and was linked to test the cameras before connecting them to the computer, which was also owned by the Government.

“There was no criminal agreement between A K and M A to watch a group of women at work,” Ms Moussa said, and it was not proved that the branch manager had sent any footage to his boss.

“Where is the damage that fell upon the victims? And what privacy was breached exactly? Wasn’t the camera present at a public place?

“It wasn’t in the ladies’ bathroom or a bedroom or a changing room, and the door is open to the public.

“Therefore it lacks the privacy that the prosecution’s charges refer to. Therefore there is no crime since it is a public place.”

P Y’s lawyer said that a police report on the footage showed it was merely “normal photos of women”, and there was no indication of a crime being committed.

Prosecutor Ayman Hanafi told the court that this was a case of breaching integrity and an ethical crime that went against Islamic principles.

Mr Hanafi requested that the defendants be punished in accordance with IT crimes laws, and said a confession had been made.

“The tangible and moral factors are available in this case, as the defendant confessed during questioning that he issued the orders to apply the cameras,” he said.

“The criminal intent was also available since the defendant downloaded the clips on the computer and mobile phone.”

At the end of the hearing A K said that the cameras were not hidden and it was illogical that he, as a man known for great achievements, would do such a thing just to watch women for personal reasons.

MA and P Y said that they were simply following the orders of their superiors.

The verdict will be announced on January 27.

hdajani@thenational.ae