Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Security cameras to be installed in commuter trains to prevent groping"

From today's Japan Today:

East Japan Railway Co plans to install security cameras in trains on the Saikyo Line linking Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture in a bid to prevent sexual molestation, becoming the first Japanese railway operator to take such a step for commuter trains, company officials said Saturday.

A set of high-definition security cameras will be installed at several locations of the No. 1 cars of Saikyo Line trains, such as the ceiling and the overhead rack, on a trial basis by the end of this year at the earliest, they said. Most groping cases have been on the No. 1 cars of the trains.

The company, known as JR East, and police say they hope the security cameras will provide ‘‘evidence’’ and serve as ‘‘deterrence’’ against molestation. But critics question the effectiveness of the cameras, voice concerns about privacy and say they may be used for other criminal investigations.

The decision to install the cameras was made after police in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures asked metropolitan railway operators for them in late October, as there are no signs of a fall in molestation cases on trains.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the number of groping cases on trains handled by the police total around 1,500 a year. In the first half of 2009, the number of such cases came to 708, of which 75, or about 10%, occurred on the Saikyo Line.

In particular, gropers target the No. 1 cars—at the end of the train despite the number—of Tokyo-bound Saikyo Line trains as they are packed full in rush-hour times because they are nearest to the stairs at many stations.

JR East will consider installing security cameras in other Saikyo Line train cars or in trains serving other lines after seeing how the trial goes, the officials said.

Other companies belonging to the JR group, which was created through the privatization of Japanese National Railways, as well as private-sector railway operators in metropolitan areas may follow suit.

Police hope security cameras will have deterrent effects although they may be able to shoot only heads of passengers on packed trains.

A police source said camera footage would provide important evidence, showing position relations between gropers and victims.

But Sophia University professor Yasuhiko Tajima, a member of a group against a surveillance society, said that with the installation of security cameras, somebody may be suspected of groping only for the reason that the person stood near the victim.

Tajima also voiced concerns about invasion of privacy. ‘‘For some people, trains are comfortable places to sleep or read books,’’ he said. ‘‘Wide discussions are necessary, based on opinions from passengers.’‘

A senior JR East official said, ‘‘While paying close attention to legal problems, including privacy, we’d like to seek various opinions.’‘

According to JR group companies and the Association of Japanese Private-Sector Railways, security cameras have been installed at decks or cargo spaces of some bullet trains on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen Lines and some other limited express trains. But no such cameras have been installed in commuter trains.

Railway operators have so far installed security cameras in stations and platforms mainly for the purpose of safety. As part of countermeasures against sexual molestation on trains, they have introduced train cars specifically for women.

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