Will the Freedom Bill tackle CCTV in schools?

News emerged last week that Stoke Park School & Community Technology College, in Coventry, has installed a mind-boggling 112 CCTV cameras to monitor 1090 students. While the acting head teacher defended this fact by claiming that there were no cameras in the toilets or in changing rooms, such an extraordinarily high number of cameras in use in a school seems a clear symptom of the way in which the urge to place the populace under surveillance is running rampant.

Our children are growing up in an environment where their liberty is valued less highly than the prospect of preventing them from committing minor infraction. What this means for their future psychological health is too early to tell. Even if we assume they are unaffected, however, the waste of resources is staggering. More concerningly, Stoke Park is but one example of a broader trend. The Telegraph reported last year that CCTV is turning schools into ‘prisons’, with as many as 85 per cent of teachers confirming that CCTV is used in their schools and one-in-ten admitting that cameras were even used in toilets. In some schools, cameras are trained on changing rooms, creating an obvious risk that footage will be misused.

The fact that – and this was the case even prior to the introduction of the Freedom Bill – most schools are breaking the law by installing CCTV without informing students and their parents is little-discussed. This article from The Guardian makes the implications clear. As researcher Emmeline Taylor says: “There is this idea that CCTV is a panacea to a lot of society’s ills, but there is nothing to suggest that this is the case.”

The article also details the most flagrant case of misuse yet to have come to light. In this case, the culprits are American rather than British: in Philadelphia, a school district gave 1,800 students, across two schools, laptops with webcams. What the district failed to make clear was that the cameras worked both ways, enabling local authorities to spy on the children in their homes.

Of course, members of the Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition have just released details of the Freedom Bill that they claim will be a huge step in restoring the civil liberties that Labour treated in such a cavalier fashion. While they’ve determined that CCTV use will be ‘regulated’, it’s still far from clear what that means for our children’s freedom to go about their lives without being constantly watched.

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