15 September 2012

School CCTV

I've recently pointed to the Queensland Information Commissioner's criticism of closed circuit television management in that state, echoing criticisms in Western Australia. It is thus interesting to see a 24 page report by Big Brother Watch in the UK on British use of cctv in schools.

The Class of 1984: The extent of CCTV in secondary schools and academies report [PDF], based on requests by Big Brother Watch to individual institutions, claims that there are at least 51,600 cctv cameras controlled by 428 local authorities. It comments that the Home Office’s proposed system of regulation for cctv cameras is "not fit for purpose", particularly because the new position of Surveillance Camera Commissioner has no enforcement or inspection powers.

Big Brother Watch offers three key recommendations in the report -
  • The Home Office code of practice for cctv cameras should apply to all publicly funded bodies 
  • The Surveillance Camera Commissioner must have the power to enforce the Code of Practice and penalties for breaching the code must be available 
  • The Government should commission an independent review of cctv use in schools to explore the evidential basis upon which cameras have been installed. This should include ensuring 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 who. 
The proposals for a regulator with no enforcement or inspection power and a code of practice that is limited to cameras directly controlled by local authorities is simply not fit for purpose. If the Surveillance Camera Commissioner cannot intervene to force the removal of a camera in a school toilet, nor even demand access to inspect the camera, then we question the point of the commissioner’s role being created at all.
Key findings in the report are -
  • total number of cameras used by 2,107 schools -- 47,806 
  • number of cameras inside 2,107 school buildings -- 26,887 
  • number of pupils in the schools that responded to the FOI request -- 1,809,814
  • number of cameras in changing rooms and bathrooms in 206 schools -- 825
  • the average number of cameras inside schools to pupils based on 47,806 cameras and 1,809,814 pupils -- 1:38
  • average number of cameras in 1,537 Secondary schools -- 24 
  • average number of cameras in 570 Academies --30 
  • % of schools with CCTV cameras -- 90% 
  • % of schools that responded but refused our request for information -- 9% 
  • number of Local Authorities with double the average (27) number of CCTV cameras in England -- 24 
  • number of schools with a ratio of 1 camera to 15 pupils or higher in England -- 54 T
  • the estimated number of CCTV cameras in Secondary schools and Academies in England, Scotland and Wales 106,710
The report states that
During the 1990s the Home Office spent 78% of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV, and clearly schools have been investing significant resources in their own surveillance equipment. We are aware of no research in the UK that has evaluated the use of CCTV cameras in schools. ... 
Given the lack of research or data on this issue, we find it remarkable that so many cameras have been installed in the absence of any empirical data, or analysis of their benefits. 
Whether or not many of these cameras are surveillance for surveillance’s sake, if schools are not able to identify why they are installing cameras and then monitor if they are effective in achieving that aim it is impossible to justify such widespread surveillance.