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Big Brother or peeping tom? UK installs CCTV in school bathrooms, changing rooms

Published time: September 12, 2012 11:26
Edited time: September 13, 2012 02:42
AFP Photo / Jacques Demarthon

AFP Photo / Jacques Demarthon

Over 200 UK state schools have installed cameras in bathrooms and changing rooms to monitor students, a recent surveillance survey reported. British parents will likely be shocked by the study’s findings.

­The survey is based on a freedom of information request conducted by Big Brother Watch, an anti-surveillance activist group. The group said they were shaken by the results, which was much higher and more extensive than expected.

The report "will come as a shock to many parents", Nick Pickles, Director of Big Brother Watch said. "Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage”.

- 47,806 cameras used in 2,107 schools
- 207 schools have 825 cameras in changing rooms and bathrooms
- 90% of schools use CCTV cameras
- 54 UK schools have 1 camera or more per 15 pupils
- 106,710 CCTV cameras estimated in high schools and academies in England, Scotland and Wales

A total of 825 cameras were installed in the bathrooms and changing rooms of 207 different schools across England, Scotland and Wales, according to data provided by more than 2,000 schools.

It remains unclear where in the bathrooms and changing rooms the cameras are located, who watches the footage and whether any pupils were recorded while changing.

The principal of the Wildern School in southern England, however, said that the cameras in her school – one per bathroom – are located "nowhere near the toilet cubicles."

"The images are not looked at unless there has been a reported problem and all images are deleted after a maximum of 30 days," she said.

Video recording in toilets or changing rooms is legal, but recommended only for exceptional circumstances, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reported. The ICO is an independent authority in the UK, whose duties include promoting privacy.

Research also showed that the extent of CCTV use varied widely from school to school. “With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every five pupils,” the report said. “CCTV appears to be used as a quick fix to much more complex problems and issues that simply cannot be solved with passive surveillance.”

UK schools so unsafe that surveillance needed in the most private spaces?

Since the 1990s, the UK’s Home Office has spent 78 percent of its crime prevention budget on CCTV installations, and schools have likewise invested significant resources in their own surveillance equipment, the Big Brother Watch report said.

No significant research has been done into whether CCTV cameras actually lower crime rates.

Big Brother Watch was able to locate a single study by the French Institut D’ Aménagement Et D’Urbanisme, which concluded that theft and burglary continued to increase after the 2007 installation of CCTV in the Île-de-France region. A marginal reduction in disorderly incidents in schools was also reported.

‘Shocking’ highlights

The Big Brother Watch report estimated that more than 100,000 cameras monitor students and teachers across Britain, with 90 percent of the schools surveyed acknowledging the use of some form of video surveillance.

Responses from 2,107 secondary schools showed that they used 47,806 cameras in total with more than half installed inside the schools. The Radclyffe School in Oldham surpassed all other schools in the survey, with 20 cameras total in bathrooms and changing rooms.

Sharon Holder, the GMB's national officer, told Newsvine that her trade union was disgusted with the findings. 

"Placing CCTV in school bathrooms poses a worrying development in school policy and raises a number of questions,” she said. “How many parents have given headteachers permission to film their child going to the toilet or having a shower? What happens to the film afterwards? How much discussion has there been on governing bodies and to what extent have councils and councilors had any input into these developments? What problems are the schools trying to solve?”

Comments (2)

Anonymous user 29.05.2013 02:11

Smegma on toast

Anonymous user 18.04.2013 12:29

Jewish politicians will not be happy until they watch our every move.

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