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Surveillance: Thimphu police arrested two minors for shoplifting on Decmeber 24, 2016. The incident occurred a day before at around 11am in a shop near the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu.

Public shaming: legal?

Surveillance: Thimphu police arrested two minors for shoplifting on Decmeber 24, 2016.

The incident occurred a day before at around 11am in a shop near the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu.

According to the complainant’s statement to police, she was busy attending to customers that day and later found that her handbag was missing from her cash counter. The shop owner checked the shop’s CCTV recordings and found the young woman taking the bag.

The shop owner claimed that she had Nu 90,000 and between USD 300 to 400 in the bag.

Police recovered Nu 10,000, USD 435 and some other items from the 14-year-old and the 16-year-old young women, who are from Khasadrapchu in Thimphu.

A police official said that the suspects confessed to the crime and said that they have spent the rest of the money shopping.

The shop owner then reported the case to police on the same day along with the CCTV footage of the suspect allegedly stealing a handbag from the shop. The footage was also posted on Facebook along with a message promising a reward of Nu 10,000 for any information leading to the arrest of the suspect.

More than 200 viewers liked the post that was on Facebook for about two hours and over 100 commented on it.

Posting photos and videos of shoplifters on social media has become a new method for shop owners to identify and catch them. However, the growing practice raises some ethical questions.

Royal Bhutan Police’s (RBP) spokesperson, deputy chief of crime and operations Colonel Dorji Wangchuk said that ethically, it is not right to post photos or videos of shoplifters on social media.

“It is accepted that the suspect had done something wrong but there are people associated with the suspect who will be socially harassed and looked down by the people as the consequence of the video,” he said. “The suspect has to be punished for the crime but not the people associated with the suspect because they don’t have any fault.”

However, he said that legally it might depend on the case. It is also important to understand the intention of the person who posts the photos or the videos on social media, whether the person posted in good faith or to defame the family.

“I don’t think there is a need to post the video on social media if the case has been registered with the police. The police will do the job to find the suspect,” he said. “If the police refuse to have the case registered then it could be an option for the people to post it on social media.”

The owner of a shop on Norzin Lam, Dema said that while she is unsure of the legality of posting CCTV footage of shoplifters on social media, she thinks it is a clever way to catch shoplifters. “It could act as a deterrent for other would-be shoplifters.”

A judge with the dzongkhag court in Thimphu said that he feels it is okay to post pictures or videos of people who have been caught on CCTV allegedly stealing inside the shop because the shop is a public space.

“The person who posted the video or the pictures of the shoplifter had not gone to the shoplifter’s house and filmed or took pictures of him or her stealing,” the judge said.

Shoplifting is a crime, the judge pointed out. If the pictures or the footage is posted to stop the crime then the judge is of the opinion that it is okay.

The police would also do the same thing if the case is reported to police, the judge said. The only difference is that the police have to seek the court’s permission before they carry out the investigation, the judge added.

Meanwhile, a lawyer who wished not to be named said that in a way, it is the right of the shop owner to name and shame those who have been caught stealing but before posting the video or the pictures publicly, it is important to be mindful of the consequences and its impact on the victim and their families.

“I believe the objective of posting the video on social media is to get the culprit arrested and that can be done by reporting the case to police,” the lawyer said.

Since the shoplifter did commit the crime, he or she has to be punished but it is more appropriate for the shop owners to turn over the surveillance recording of suspected shoplifters to the police rather than post it on social media, the lawyer said. “Even by doing so, the shoplifter will be arrested so I don’t find it necessary that you have to post it on social media.”

The lawyer said that cameras aren’t always clear and people can look different. By displaying pictures and videos of alleged shoplifters, there is a risk of portraying people who look alike to the shoplifter as a thief and the shop owners are opening themselves up to legal action.

However, there is no specific law regarding privacy rights in the country so it is not clear if it is legal to post the videos and pictures of people caught stealing in the shop unless the case is in court, the lawyer added.

Another shop owner in Thimphu, Jangchuk, said that shoplifting is a problem for many shops.

“We are the victims here and we are only posting about people who have stolen something from the shop so I don’t think there is an issue here,” he said. “I think it is an effective method to get information on who those people are and get them caught.”

The case concerning the two minors is under investigation and the suspects are currently on bail.

Dechen Tshomo

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