Snooping CCTVs will hurt retail associations in the long run

  • Pushpa Girimaji
  • Updated: Apr 05, 2015 01:10 IST

While shopping online, we carefully read the privacy policy of the stores, worried that the information that we share might be misused.

But what about brick and mortar stores, who are infringing on our privacy in the worst possible manner? I am referring to a spate of complaints about cameras capturing women in trial rooms of apparel stores, which have completely shattered consumers’ trust in well known and respected clothing chains and made shopping for clothes, a stressful experience.

In July last year, the circulation of images of women caught on a spy camera in the changing room of a retailer in Ludhiana had sent shock waves around the country.

The very next month, a shopper in Bengaluru had lodged a police complaint against a outlet in Basavanagudi, on discovering a CCTV camera in the trial room.

Then last fortnight, a 23-year-old executive had found a mobile phone on video-recording mode tucked into a gap in the changing room of a showroom in Lajpat Nagar.

Latest in these shocking and disgusting incidents is the discovery of a CCTV camera pointed at the trial room in a FabIndia outlet in Goa, by Union HRD minister Smriti Irani.

In many of these cases, the voyeur may be a shop assistant or a manager and the owner or the store management may be quite oblivious of what is happening in the store, but that is not an excuse.

Those who own these stores have a duty to ensure that the customers’ privacy is not breached in any manner.

In fact, those who have been victims of such voyeurism and invasion of privacy at these stores should also file a complaint of gross misconduct and deficiency in service against such stores and seek a hefty compensation through the consumer courts. Even if the owner is not involved in the crime, he can still be held vicariously liable for the actions of his employees.

While lodging a police complaint will ensure criminal investigation and charge sheeting of the culprit under various sections of the IPC, such as 354C (voyeurism) and his/her prosecution, the filing of a complaint before the consumer court will ensure that the owner is also held liable and made to pay a hefty compensation, including punitive damages to the complainants.

There is another related issue — increasing use of CCTV cameras in retail outlets, reportedly for the purpose of catching shoplifters. Consumers should strongly oppose this practice because there is every possibility of such cameras being misused. On the ground that shoplifting happens in the trial room, the store may well direct the camera there.

If retailers are so worried about theft, they should use anti-shoplifting tags or security tags to detect it and not cameras. Many shops also restrict the number of clothes being taken into the fitting room, as a measure to prevent thefts. So there are other ways of checking theft than violating a customer’s privacy. At the most, for security reasons, a CCTV camera may be placed at the entrance (outside the door) of the store, but nothing beyond.

So like the online privacy policy, we need to have a privacy policy for all brick and mortar shops selling clothes, wherein the shop management should put out a clear declaration that there are no snooping cameras in the shop.

They should also take full responsibility for their staff, sweep the stores at regular intervals for hidden cameras and assure the consumers that there is no privacy breach. If retail associations do not take this issue seriously and make this effort to win back consumer confidence, they will lose out to online shops.

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