The use of surveillance cameras in schools is a particularly
sensitive part of the CCTV debate. From concerns about who is viewing the
images to the broader question of acclimatising children to an environment
where surveillance is the norm, it is not a topic to be taken lightly.
Today’s news that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras
in secondary schools and academies highlights the extent of surveillance
schoolchildren are now under.
The result of more than 2,000 Freedom of Information Act
responses, Big Brother Watch’s latest report — Class of 1984 — raises a serious question about how the privacy of
school children is being protected.
With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every
five pupils, and with more than two hundred schools using CCTV in bathrooms and
changing rooms, with more cameras inside school buildings than outside, the
picture across the country will undoubtedly shock and surprise many. To put it
into context, our research earlier this year found there are currently at least
51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.
Many parents and teachers will be asking how this could
happen without public outcry. More importantly, they will want to know what is
being done to ensure intrusive CCTV cameras are not allowed to enter into
schools, especially areas where privacy is paramount.
For those of you who followed the Protection of Freedoms Act
through Parliament, you may think you know the answer. Isn’t the Government
creating a new post of Surveillance Camera Commissioner and a new code of
practice governing the use of CCTV?
You would be correct. However, as ever, the devil is in the
detail. The code of practice will only apply to a very narrow group of
organisations, essentially local authorities and the police, and it will be
neither a criminal or civil offence to disregard the code. The new Surveillance
Camera Commissioner, despite the grand title, will have absolutely no
enforcement powers – they won’t even have the power to inspect a camera.
This is simply not good enough. For the regulatory structure
to be so woefully weak that it cannot allow the Commissioner to order the
removal of a camera from a school toilet, it cannot be fit for purpose.
In the report, we also call on the Government to undertake an
independent review of CCTV use in schools to explore the evidential basis upon
which cameras have been installed. This
should include ensuring that any school using CCTV has appropriate policies in
place so teachers and parents are fully aware of why surveillance is being
used, when footage can be viewed and by whom.
The surveillance experiment of the past twenty years has
failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. As schoolchildren across the
country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of
their education, it is time for a different approach.
Big Brother Watch will
be hosting an event at Conservative Conference discussing this report at 2.45pm on the 9th October in The Institute of
Engineering and Technology. (Austin Court, 80
Cambridge St, Birmingham, West Midlands B1 2NP.)