More cases of this absurd intrusion into our privacy are constantly coming to light, with prying electronic eyes in (formerly) private places - toilets and changing rooms. From public houses to public toilets, leisure centres to supermarkets, even children’s school changing-rooms, CCTV has become inescapable and, even more shockingly, deemed acceptable. Such ludicrous measures are defended by Local Education Authorities, councils and firms nationwide (no doubt because fighting against misuse of soap dispensers is a cause that justifies of capturing semi-naked pictures of the public).
The Sun reports that time-keeping is one excuse in the Sutton branch of Tesco, Britain’s biggest private sector employer. “These cameras were initially used for security reasons but management can use them for other issues if they so wish,” a Tesco spokeswoman told The Sun, adding: "Staff may be disciplined if management feel there is good reason to do so," heightening employees’ fears that this means lingering loo-goers.
The Sun article just mentions Sutton so BBW would love Tesco employees in other branches to get in touch with their experiences.
CCTV in schools is increasingly common. CCTV in a Welsh secondary school is supposed to prevent vandalism – something that in the bad old days was done by a device called discipline, no longer widely available. “CCTV was installed, in the main, to overcome concerns about the misuse of paper and soap” said Ceredigion’s council leader, Keith Evans, an advocate of the action taken (and, incidentally, a school governor). This is the only school in its Local Education Authority to adopt CCTV in loos yet it was defended by the head teacher – albeit without providing any details of who would review the tapes. The same issue of course exists in relation to the CCTV in schools in Chelmsley Wood in the midlands; these reasons amongst others (including serious parental protests) saw the abandonment of CCTV in toilets in a school in Plymouth.
At the Rose & Crown in York, the justification for CCTV right inside the cubicles is cocaine use – as if coke-heads were too stupid to find a quiet corner anyway. At the Pure Lounge bar in Basingstoke, the excuse is vandalism.
Tooting leisure centre has four CCTV cameras in female changing rooms and no signs to warn any future stars of social networking: Dorota Sharma, a 45-year-old IT manager (so she should know), said “anyone with a little bit of technical knowledge could access it. It very quickly could be on YouTube or Facebook. I find it very offensive.” Children whose changing rooms are monitored in Salfordmight feel the same way.
This surveillance doesn’t come cheap, either. A Big Brother Watch supporter has discovered via Freedom of Information request that CCTV in his local lavatories in the Hayes in Cardiff cost an eye-watering £6,400 to install – to which maintenance and monitoring costs must of course be added.
Those of you who have had tea with your aunt at the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria Station will share my shock at finding CCTV in the ladies' there (and the men's, according to the sign, although I confess didn't check). Security no doubt but I think most aunts can manage without the watchful eye of a security man.
Equally, many amongst our Learned Friends will be surprised and disappointed to find that there is CCTV at the heart of legal London – counsel using the Inner Temple loos will find that they’re being watched (by a camera pictured here).
Reacting to this remarkable escalation in toilet cams, Big Brother Watch’s Director, Alex Deane, said:
Our campaign against this growing and disturbing phenomenon has been triggered many members of the public who got in touch because they were so upset.
CCTV in loos is incredibly intrusive, and shows the contempt councils and schools have for our privacy.
Many toilet users don’t realise it – but all too often, Big Brother is watching you pee.
There must be many more stories like this out there but many won’t have been spotted by the media and even when they have been, many local newspapers are not online - so please send us details and photographs so that we can name and shame the absurd people responsible.
By Lydia Ellis