Use of CCTV in schools criticised


A secondary school in Co Kildare was ordered to remove monitoring cameras from student toilets after parents made a complaint to the Data Protection Commissioner.

The case is outlined in the commissioner's annual report for 2010, published today. It notes that use of CCTV continues to give rise to regular complaints.

Cameras were installed in the student toilets, and the students “objected to this intrusiveness”, the report says. “When their concerns were dismissed, they walked out of the school in protest.” As the cameras were operating in contravention of the Data Protection Acts, the commissioner ordered their immediate removal.

Separately, a primary school in Co Mayo deployed CCTV cameras both inside and outside the premises. The commissioner said that in this case, the school installed the system “without considering the issues it raised and without developing policies to address those issues”. Parents were “justifiably concerned” and made representations to the commissioner's office.

“Our investigation revealed that the requirements of the Data Protection Acts had not been met, and we ordered the system to be switched off,” the report said.

A number of schools were targeted for audits last year, usually in response to complaints about CCTV.

The commissioner said that during such audits, schools must provide a “convincing justification for the use of every camera in and around its premises”.

“Where a school is unable to justify the use of particular cameras, they will be ordered to remove them. CCTV cameras are not a substitute for supervision, and they should not be used for that purpose.”

The commissioner said complaints about CCTV were not confined to students. “On several occasions, school staff complained to our office about the use of CCTV to review their movements.”

The commissioner said that under the Data Protection Acts, “staff monitoring via CCTV is rarely proportionate”.

“We should all recall that CCTV footage, while certainly having a useful purpose in a range of circumstances, is an intrusion into our personal space and therefore it is appropriate to question the justification for its installation in a range of circumstances.

“Particularly in the workplace and in schools, where employees and students can perhaps not feel able to voice their concerns, privacy rights are retained. and there is a very high bar to justify any recourse to the use of CCTV systems.”

The annual report emphasises the need for “accountability on the part of public and private sector organisations for the personal data entrusted to them”.

It contains as an annex the outcome of a special investigation into the handling of claims data in the insurance sector's Insurance Link system, which revealed “significant breaches” of data protection laws.

The commissioner's office also received complaints from members of the public about the collection of excessive personal data by financial institutions, which it said were “inappropriately justified as required to satisfy anti-money laundering obligations”.

Funding for the Data Protection Commissioner's office was reduced by some 20 per cent last year from just over €1.8 million in 2009 to just under €1.5 million.