Cameras in bathrooms could be a privacy breach, says commissioner

Some schools are installing cameras to combat vaping and bullying. Is it the right call, and what should schools consider?

Some schools are considering installing cameras in bathroom wash-areas to combat bullying and vaping, though Michael Webster, the Privacy Commissioner, warns there are several factors to consider.  

In September this year, Rangiora High School installed cameras to combat youth vaping. Principal Bruce Kearney said that students were gathering around toilet blocks in large groups to vape, and displaying antisocial behaviour.  

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“Students often vape in our toilets in large groups and it can be intimidating for our students to actually use the toilets for their intended purpose.” 

To ensure there were no privacy breaches, clear signs around cameras were installed, and they were limited to common corridors and areas. Sensors and cameras were slowly being rolled out across the school.  

Board of Trustees chair Simon Green said that so far, the new system had been successful.  

“We’ve had no concerns raised around privacy so far, and they are only being placed in the corridor and not in the cubicles themselves, so there is no privacy issue. 

“The sensors are pretty good at picking up when people are using the toilet for a purpose other than what is intended.” 

Recently, a report was also released that showed up to 10 percent of New Zealand students were being physically harmed through peer bullying.  

Though a security system may be a good way to combat these issues, Webster noted that “Bathrooms are highly sensitive zones for privacy”, meaning schools should tread carefully.  

He said that more school leaders had been enquiring about the use of cameras, and outlined a few measures that community leaders should take first.  

Any cameras being installed would need to be done so in a transparent process, ensuring open and adequate communication with the staff, students and wider community.  

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Communication would need to include what information the school is collecting and why. Cameras also need to be trained outside of changing and toilet areas.  

Records should only be kept as necessary and schools should be aware of who has access to the information after it’s been captured. There should also be a system in place for deleting videos.  

Webster recommends that school leaders’ first port of call is a privacy impact assessment.  

“Remember that everyone, regardless of their age, has privacy rights,” Webster concludes.

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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