Installing CCTV cam? Get approval first

SINGAPORE - Walk around Block 137, Yishun Ring Road, and you will find many closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras mounted in the 12-storey block.

Residents have installed them for reasons such as deterring theft, warding off loan-shark runners and keeping tabs on "difficult" neighbours.

But what many people do not know is that it is illegal to install these cameras outside their flats without permission from the town council and Housing Board. However, the police may install CCTV cameras for the purpose of deterring crime after seeking prior approval from the town council, the Nee Soon Town Council told The New Paper (TNP).

One of the block's residents knows this all too well. He was once ordered by the Nee Soon Town Council to remove two CCTV cameras that he had placed outside his unit.

He had installed them to keep an eye on his neighbour, with whom he has a hostile relationship.

The resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr Richard, said the feud began after his neighbour refused to clear the row of potted plants along the common corridor, which extended to the exterior of his flat.

Earlier this year, the feud became so bad that the neighbour smashed the cameras that he had in place. Mr Richard claimed he had to spend "thousands of dollars" to replace them.

He told TNP: "I felt threatened and insecure as I live every day with the nagging feeling that he would take revenge."

So Mr Richard felt that the only way he could protect his family was to have surveillance cameras to monitor his neighbour's movements.

He said: "I approached the town council and was told that having one camera is legal as long as it does not invade the privacy of other units."

However, he felt that one camera was not enough. In January, he installed two CCTV cameras, one pointed at his flat's main door and the other pointed at his window.

In February, he started to receive several summons letters from the town council, advising him to remove both cameras.

When contacted, the town council told TNP that the installation of CCTV cameras is generally not allowed on common property, including corridors and areas outside flats.

Residents who wish to install such cameras have to seek approval from the HDB.

Mr Richard brought up his concerns with the authorities and received approval from HDB for the installation of one camera from March till last month.

HDB told TNP that, while it does not allow residents to install CCTV cameras, exceptions can be made in cases which involve harassment or security issues.

"However, only one camera can be installed and it is to be used for the surveillance of the area immediately outside the flat," said the agency.

Approval is only temporary, for a period of up to six months or until the issue has been resolved, whichever is earlier, it added. After that, residents have to remove their CCTV cameras.

For Mr Richard, this time period is up. But he refuses to remove the cameras.

He said: "I will be put in more danger when... I have to remove both cameras. If I'm harmed, who will take responsibility?"

In March, his neighbour admitted to destroying his cameras. He also approached the town council to ask Mr Richard to remove them.

Four of the 13 households in Block 137 with CCTV cameras facing the common areas told TNP they were not aware they have to seek permission.

But some households are aware of the rules.

Anna Loh installed a CCTV camera outside her flat because there were incidents of loan sharks harassing residents a few years back.

The 52-year-old housewife made a police report and was given approval from the police to have the camera installed.

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.