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Palmerston North school keeping bathroom camera despite concerns

A Palmerston North school’s been cautioned by the Privacy Commission over its decision to install cameras inside student bathrooms. 

Queen Elizabeth College in Palmerston North, Manawatu-Whanganui Source: Google Maps

The camera, positioned facing towards the sinks in the girls bathroom, was installed in an effort to tackle “ongoing vandalism” at Queen Elizabeth College.

However, after concern was raised by parents and students the school held a hui earlier this week to discuss their decision. 

“We would like to affirm that we value our close links with our community as this ensures we all work together for the benefit of our students,” Board of Trustees Chair Sefan Speller told 1 NEWS today. 

Around 10 parents attended the hui with the board of trustees to discuss the vandalism problem at the school, along with any concerns over privacy. 

As a result, the board made the decision to remove all footage taken from earlier in the term but will keep the camera in the bathroom should it be needed. 

“We can confirm that earlier footage will be deleted with the camera remaining as a deterrent.” 

Principal Chris Moller told Stuff earlier this week over $15,000 was spent this financial year in repairing and renovating this bathroom in an effort to prevent vandalism. 

The Office of the Privacy Commission says schools need to be “very careful” installing cameras in bathrooms, particularly when it comes to their placement. 

Senior Communications Adviser Alix Chapman said the school could look at alternative ways to position the camera such as outside the entrance of the bathrooms. 

“Our advice is that there would need to be a fairly extraordinary set of circumstances to justify putting up cameras looking into toilet cubicles or in areas where people are changing.

“There will be a very high onus on the school to ensure only appropriate access to footage is allowed, that it is used for no other purpose than that stated, and that it kept secure.” 

However, Speller reassured the school has made adequate steps to respect their students’ rights. 

“We are comfortable that we have taken into account the privacy of our students.” 

According to Chapman, the school would be at risk of “substantial damages” if any of the students experienced “harm from the operation of the camera”. 

Under the guidelines for CCTV footage, the Privacy Commission states it is important there is a "clearly defined purpose" for its use.

"While installing cameras in the men's toilets for generic security purposes is likely to be unreasonably intrusive depending on how the cameras are sited, installing a temporary camera in a locker room to catch a staff member stealing items from a specific locker is likely to be more justifiable." 

Users will usually be required to let people know they are being filmed, why they are being film and how it is going to be used. 

Anyone concerned about the operation of the camera can contact the Privacy Commissioner’s helpline on 0800 803 909.