Tokyo-area railways recently started considering the installation of surveillance cameras inside trains to deter groping and other offenses that can occur in crowded situations.
Railways were pressed to take such steps by the National Police Agency last month.
But experts warn that surveillance cameras may do little to deter perverts and instead could potentially violate the privacy of passengers.
Ceiling cameras would be limited in what they could capture and thus might not provide sufficient evidence in cases of groping in extremely crowded conditions, although they may have a partial deterrent effect, the experts say.
“Whether cameras are out in the open or hidden, finding their blind spots on a packed train may not be too difficult,” said Masao Awano, author of “Konohito Chikan to Iwaretara” (“If Someone Called You a Groper”). “Cameras mounted above may show who is next to a victim but not necessarily spot a groper skillful enough to make it appear as if someone else committed the offense.”
Groping on notoriously crowded urban trains is a significant problem and who touches who, whether accidentally or deliberately, is not always easy to identify, especially when movement, even the ability to turn one’s head, is severely limited.
The NPA filed 4,041 train groping cases last year, including 2,590 in Tokyo and Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures.
Police officially have denied they are pressing railways to install surveillance cameras but did admit officers from Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba last month showed carriers the results of an online survey in which more than 70 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t mind surveillance cameras on trains if they prevent groping.
The railways reportedly regarded this as tacit pressure by the police to install cameras.
East Japan Railway Co., Tokyo Metro Co., Odakyu Electric Railway Co. and Keisei Electric Railway Co. were among more than 10 carriers that participated in the meeting. They said they are weighing whether video monitors would be effective or if they pose any privacy violations.
A Tokyo police spokesman said the Metropolitan Police Department is in the process of studying these two issues with railways and thus would refrain from comment.
A random selection of women interviewed by The Japan Times said surveillance cameras on trains would make them uncomfortable, although some acknowledged that the option may be a necessary evil if it deters gropers.
“Generally, I would not feel good about being watched. If cameras are effective in preventing groping, I would be fine with it,” office worker Yoko Yamagishi, 26, said near Tamachi Station in Tokyo.
“But I am not sure surveillance cameras would be effective,” she added.
Author Awano said the issue of privacy on trains may be more serious than on platforms, elevators and in convenience stores, where cameras have long been in place, because people tend to spend more time on trains.
Shintaro Kawai of Clair Law Firm, who often handles groping cases, said railways may be reluctant to go to the expense of installing a sufficient number of cameras to cover most train cars, especially because they would draw passenger complaints about privacy.
However, Kawai believes two or three cameras per car may have just enough deterrent effect for railways to justify the investment.
“(Cameras) may not deter people with a pathological obsession to grope, and who look for any way to get away with the act, but the cameras may dissuade some,” he said.
Whether surveillance cameras on trains would have a deterrent effect has never been studied. Whether cameras overlooking streets and other areas prevent crime is debatable, but footage from them has been effectively used as evidence, whether of crimes committed or to demonstrate someone’s presence at a given time.
“There is no statistical evidence in any country that shows cameras reduce crimes. That’s because crimes are caused by many factors, not just whether or not there are cameras,” said Yasuhiko Tajima, a Sophia University journalism professor familiar with privacy issues.
Takamichi Oikawa, president of Coretech Co., which installs surveillance monitors, said detecting gropers with cameras would be extremely difficult.
Ceiling cameras only show upper images, and those hidden in plumbing, window frames and doors would also have very restricted range and may not be capable of offering a wide angle, he said.
Cameras, even those measuring 5 cm × 3 cm, that are not recessed and can come in contact with passengers would probably not stay attached very long, he added.
Oikawa said railways could install ceiling cameras that detect and record abnormal movements, although he is not sure their effect would justify the ¥300,000 to ¥400,000 it costs for such equipment.
“Such cameras are in use in buildings and elevators,” Oikawa said. “I’m not sure if they are effective in a crowded place.”