At the beginning of May, a group of "investigators" descended upon Symi unannounced, judge's order in hand, and confiscated webcams from around the harbour, and from some other locations on the island. It's not been possible to get exact details as the investigation is continuing, but there has been huge amounts of gossip. Among the many things I've learned here on Symi, the biggest surprise is the speed at which stories develop...chinese whispers gone mad. One consistent part of the tale, however, seems to be that these cameras were being used by people traffickers in Turkey to monitor the harbour and the seas around Symi, giving them a heads-up on the coastguard and port police, and helping them with timing the smuggling of refugees to the island. If anyone reading this feels like shrugging and saying "so what", then I'll direct you to this news item that appeared in the News of Symi some months ago and my own blog that I wrote at the time. This is a big issue for Symi, a very big one indeed, and anyone that loves the place will readily admit that all of us should do our best to help the situation if we can. Of course, for most people, there is little or nothing they can do, except to be vigilant and understanding. There are some, though, who could do a lot more, and once more it's to do with webcams.
I get accused of having a fixation about the Symi Visitor...well, I don't like them, that's true, but I try my best to ignore them these days. They used to occupy the big mansion at the bottom of the steps on the southern side of the harbour, producing their monthly newspaper and having a prominent face on the island. Those days, though, are long gone. The newspaper is no longer printed (though they did bring out last November's issue at the beginning of May in an online-only "Spring" edition which was as much filled with news from the USA as it was from Symi and was a thoroughly dull read), and although the Symi Visitor banner hangs from the mansion, most of the shutters remain closed, glass is missing from some of the windows, and the lights are never on. The webcam, however, which broadcasts images from the building is, at least periodically, still active. Symi Visitor Accommodation, a separate but very much linked entity, operates out of a little room in the harbour, and they too have a webcam broadcasting a once-a-minute picture showing the pavement between Pahos Cafeneio and Chouchi Gold, the harbour road, some of the taxi boats...and most of the harbour to the clock-tower and beyond. It's become a regular habit, boasted by Adriana Shum on the Symi Visitor chat forum, for holidaymakers to come wave at the camera. As well as showing the harbour, you see, you can also see faces and recognise people.
Again I hear the "So what!" though this time shouted more forcibly. Well, webcams that allow people to be identified in public places or ones which are a security risk are very strictly governed in Greece. As I wrote in the May 2009 edition of The News of Symi, it is very difficult for non-Greeks to understand why Greek people dislike being recorded going about their public business. Coming from the most surveilled society in the World, the United Kingdom, where people seem to have not realised how much liberty they have given away, I found it a tough thing to understand myself. Talking with people here, learning more about the culture and history, I eventually came to realise that the same fierce love of freedom that makes Greece such a wonderful place is also at the heart of the hatred of surveillance. It may be tough or impossible for many non-Greeks to ever "get it", but if you can't, then at least accept that Greece is Greek, and on this issue they have strong feelings and should be the ones who decide the issue.
When the Leader of the Dodecanese Council was on Symi this month, Dimitris Chrisochoos and I were both there to hear his reaction at finding out about the webcam at the Symi Visitor Accommodation office; "They are illegal, they must go!" It was as much the issue of security as it was for invasion of privacy that he said this, though either reason by itself would have been good enough.
Symigreece.com once ran it's own webcam for a short while showing a section of the harbour, and it proved popular with viewers, providing them with a glimpse of Symi "as it was happening". People appeared as no larger than dots, so there was no issue of invasion of privacy. After the camera got water damaged, we stopped the service, intending to start it up again after a short while. However, it was during this time that we were approached by the Port Police who told us that, while they and the Council gave their unequivocal support for the daily photos that we put up, could we please ensure that we didn't photograph anything that could compromise Symi's security, such as the port police, coastguard or naval boats. It was also at this time that they told us of how much they hated the webcam on the Symi Visitor building. After this, and hearing their reasons, we decided that we wouldn't start up our own webcam again. It seems quite clear to me, that if those who are in charge of the two Symi Visitor webcams care about the security of Symi, they should ensure that their cameras no longer show the harbour. While this is possible for both of them, the only real way for the one at the Symi Visitor Accommodation office to acheive it is to point it downwards, so making people even more identifiable as they walk on the streets.
I try to avoid the Symi Visitor chat forum; I simply find too many of the people who frequent it to be too objectionable. While most of the time the threads are anodyne and alcohol-related, when political issues get discussed, the xenophobia pours forth like vomit, often unchecked by moderators. Expecting some reaction to the latest edition of the News of Symi, I had a look today and, of course, read what I expected; a complete lack of understanding of the issue complete with the "we like our webcam and if the Greeks don't like it, they're pillocks" argument. From my past experience of the staff at the Symi Visitor Accommodation, Wendy Wilcox and Adriana Shum, I expected little effort to care about other people's views on the issue. Once again, Adriana, their mouthpiece to the online World, misses the point entirely, or maybe is actively trying to muddle the issue. There are plenty of webcams in Greece, she says, ERT, the National TV channel even wanted to feature the first Symi Visitor webcam several years ago, and there are plenty that you can view online from all over Greece, some even set up by local councils themselves. To defend the existence of their own webcam (no doubt feeling under a bit of pressure to do so) they have even added links to some of these other webcams from their own webcam page. I'm sure that many will swallow this line completely, and think that Adriana has provided a powerful reason why the whole fuss about her own webcam is just nonsense. If you actually go look at the webcams she links to, though, her argument disintegrates completely with little effort. The only webcams in the list that allow faces to be seen are those run by private businesses like her own (and hence no more legitimate than her own webcam) with the others show wide shots, many of harbour areas. Not one of them, however, shows pictures of a harbour on a Turkish-Greek border island which has serious problems with people smuggling, let alone anywhere where a judge has already ruled that webcams are a security risk. Does Adriana seriously believe that a webcam view of Mykonos harbour, or the harbours at Paros or Naxos or Corfu is even remotely comparable? Does Adriana believe that showing people walking about their business, as her webcam does, is the same as an internet cafe showing a view of its interior, or a taverna showing its guests eating? These are private webcams broadcasting images from private premises and the issue is completely different. All what Adriana achieves by pointing out that other places in the Greek Islands broadcast people in public, is that there are just other private businesses like the one she works for that are happy to ignore the rules of the Greek Government on this issue.
I'm issuing now a challenge to Wendy and Adriana (and to Nikos Halkitis who is responsible for the other webcam too)...go to the Port Police and the Council here on Symi and get Symi Visitor and Symi Visitor Accomodation a license to broadcast what their webcams show. Failing that, a statement from them saying that they accept that it is OK for the webcams to show what they do online, that they are good for Symi, or at least not harmful. If you get either of those, I'll gladly publish the fact here and even write it up for the News of Symi. What could be fairer than that, eh? If you can't or don't choose to even try, then it seems fair to accept the patently obvious...that you're putting the business interests of Symi Visitor and/or Symi Visitor Accommodation (i.e. the contents of your own wallets) above the security of the island and the rules of the country that you live in; that you operate your webcam, with the full knowledge that it is disliked by the authorities and people here...and you just couldn't care less.
I've added this footnote which describes the legal situation in Greece re the use of CCTV as it relates to personal privacy. In Greece, the DPA (Data Protection Authority), an independent body set up under the rules of the Data Protection Act 1997, is charged with monitoring privacy violations.
In September 2000, the DPA announced the Directive on Closed Circuit Television Systems, 1122-26.09.2000. This directive "sets out guidelines prohibiting the recording, use, monitoring, and retention of personal information through the use of CCTV on a regular, continuous, or permanent basis. Recording is only lawful when it is done for the protection of individuals or goods or for traffic violations and only under the principles of necessity and proportionality. In these exceptional cases, the DPA must grant permission, and the rules on accuracy and notification must be followed. With respect to crime prevention or repression, the DPA must grant special permission to judicial and legal authorities to use cameras, with strict guidelines for use and retention."
An English translation of the directive can be read on the DPA's website here, and the Law 2472/1997 that is refered can be found here.
Web cameras, even those which record only one frame per minute, come under the definition of CCTV as their recording is on a "regular, continuous or permanent basis." Such recording of images is defined as "personal data" under the provision of the act in the first paragraph of Article 1 of the directive, if individuals or their vehicles can be identified. The inclusion of the words "regular, continuous or permanent basis" distinguishes webcams from cameras taking single images at locations, or video cameras recording a short film e.g. SymiGreece's daily photos, tourists' holiday snaps and holiday movies. The web camera at the Symi Visitor Accommodation office would appear to be unlawful in Greece for at least the following reasons:
a) It is contrary to Article 1, para 1 and is not covered by the exceptions in Article 1, para 2, that is, the recording of images is on a regular/continuous basis and is not for the protection of individuals or goods or for monitoring traffic violations.
b) it is not proportional according to Article 1, section A, that is the legitimate interest of the controllers of the webcam do not prevail over the rights and interests of the individuals being recorded.
c) Contrary to Article 1,section D, the recognition of faces and vehicles is possible with no legitimate purpose.
d) Contrary to Article 1,section F, "security measures taken against unlawful processing for as long as the data are retained" is ignored as the images are put online for anyone to copy.
e) Contrary to Article 2, section A, the DPA have not been informed by the owner of the webcam that it is operating and may collect personal data, nor of the type of data being recorded.
f) Contrary to Article 2, Section B, no signs have been placed in prominent positions indicating to people and vehicles that they are entering/leaving an area where surveillance is being conducted.
Dimitris Chrisochoos, writing for the latest edition of the News of Symi (May 2009), was aware of some of these points in his front-page article, and I believe that he together with some other Symi residents whose patience appears to have run out, know of the procedures making the DPA aware of breaches of its directives. The directive also notes (Artcle 2, Section C) that the DPA may exercise, at any time, any necessary control, and may impose administrative sanctions on offenders.