Tuesday, September 18, 2012

British School Officials Defend Video Cameras in Bathrooms

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- On Wednesday of last week, privacy activists in the United Kingdom identified more than 200 high schools across Great Britain that have installed video surveillance cameras in toilets and locker rooms. Much of the evidence collected for the scathing report was obtained through freedom-of-information requests. One school featured prominently in the study, King Ecgbert School in Sheffield, was discovered to have cameras mounted in all 12 bathrooms on the grounds. Representatives from Big Brother Watch, the organization responsible for the research, urged the British government to consider implementing greater regulations over the use of surveillance systems or creating a watchdog group to assure the protection of students' privacy. "Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage," a spokesperson for Big Brother Watch said. But education officials have vigorously defended the cameras, which were instituted in a joint effort with the Catholic Church, to prevent toilet-related injuries -- a leading cause of death in England.

Britain has been dubbed a "surveillance society" by countless civil liberties groups. In fact, there are over four million CCTV cameras in the nation -- one for every 14 people. About 90 percent of schools in England, Scotland and Wales also have cameras on premise. Some estimates indicate that 47,806 cameras exist in U.K. schools alone. Even more disturbing, the same data point out that 206 schools have a total of 825 cameras placed in bathrooms, a figure Big Brother Watch calls disproportionate and inexcusable.

Ernest Higges, a private detective specializing in video monitoring with San Narciso's Few and Shue Security, said cameras in educational facilities are common and often useful in combatting bullying, drug use or other criminal activities. "But having most of those cameras located in restrooms seems excessive and a bit unnecessary," he noted.

British officials disagree.

Myfanawy Tittensor, representing the Department for Education, explained that British security protocols are less intrusive and austere than those in the American public education system.

"British high schools aren't beset by the deadly gunplay seen in the United States, where TSA-style metal detectors and armed guards patrol access to campuses," Ms. Tittensor said. "Personally, I find that more unnerving. Would you really rather be diddled by some degenerate from Salford or Brixton than seen having a slash?"

She also disputed statements made by administrators of individual schools who said the cameras weren't meant to tackle serious security risks but "typical teenage stuff," such as smoking.

"That's patently untrue," Ms. Tittensor argued. "Although, the threats facing students visiting the loo are different in British schools. Bullyism generally consists of little more than pointing out a poorly tied neckerchief or disheveled uniform shirt, which in England can be emotionally crippling but not physically dangerous. There are no guns. And given the dismal nature of our culture, firearms would merely increase the incidences of suicide. We also aren't embroiled in a silly, drawn-out war against drugs, as our American counterparts are, which we've always found humorous. It implies there's a war and that the drugs are winning. If naked, cocaine-fueled romps are sanctioned by the monarchy, who are we to argue the merits? But our toilets are death traps."

Tittensor contends that lavatory mishaps rank among the main causes of fatalities in Britain.

"Our society is not blighted by the violence so common to America," she said. "Suicide is a huge contributor to England's mortality rate, mostly resulting from living in England. Heart attacks are the number one killer. It's to be expected when you consider the overall lack of will to survive another gray, futile British afternoon. And of course, because of British food. We can't eat chicken unless it's wrapped in bacon, soaked in pork drippings and then coated with chip fat and something called 'Rumbledethumps.' No wonder we're always so eager to join the Americans in their pointless ideological wars. In battle, we can at least die with some dignity, some sense of purpose."

Take away restaurants and the typical English home -- where the fetid, spirit-crushing despair of being English tortures the soul to madness or resignation -- the most dangerous places in Britain are its toilets.

Wiping away tears, Tittensor described the tragic history of English lives lost to the water closet: "In the ninth century, Edmund II was assassinated in an outhouse. King George II died on the toilet in 1760. And just last year, a member of the Conservative Party, Christopher Shale, was robbed of his promising career while squatting in a portable bog at the Glastonbury Festival. As the stewards of our children's futures, we can't risk leaving them unprotected in these sinister environments."

Tittensor assured privacy advocates that video of the toilets was reviewed only when suspicions were raised or incidents reported by witnesses.

"No school personnel have the time or inclination to monitor the cameras," she said. "We also understand such actions would be viewed as inappropriate. But again, our priority remains focused on the safety of our students. This program was originally conceived by concerned clergymen with the Catholic Church. In fact, the church generously provided all of the equipment and paid for the installations. Their eagerness to launch the program -- almost with a sense of great urgency -- was astonishing and proved to me their genuine motivation to help. They have also volunteered to watch the cameras continuously during school hours. We believe this will alleviate any apprehension about prurient curiosity or deviant behavior as priests, without question, are respected servants of God, moral leaders and are committed to the protection of children without any desires of the flesh, which is a crucial part of their vows."

(c) 2012. See disclaimers.