Sunday 18 August 2019

Adrian Weckler: 'CCTV in every crèche may be a sticking plaster that merely leads to 'nanny state' concern'

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Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Is compulsory CCTV in all licensed crèches an answer to our concerns over child safety?

It is an idea that is now being considered, having been raised in the Oireachtas Committee on Children.

On one hand, it seems like a simple, effective measure. If rogue workers believe they are being filmed, they will not mistreat babies, right?

But privacy law makes its obligatory implementation problematic.

"Blanket video surveillance is a high-risk move," said Dr Katherine O'Keeffe of data protection firm Castlebridge.

"It can be seen as disproportionately invasive. Workers have privacy rights. But there are also other safety issues, such as security of the footage not being good enough, especially in a situation where it's suggested that parents have access to a live stream of the CCTV footage."

This situation, where a crèche might provide a 'log-in' to parents to see their babies at any time, is fraught from recent internet experience.

Sensitive webcam footage has been found on the 'dark web' or on criminal websites, sold to those seeking out child abuse imagery. Because of the nature of the work in crèches, child nudity is something that cannot always be avoided.

Despite this risk, limited webcam access is something that some crèches do currently offer to parents. But industry bodies argue that it is not an easy answer.

"The use of CCTV does not foster a culture of trust and could be an invasion of both children's and employees' privacy," said Frances Byrne, director of policy at Early Childhood Ireland, which represents crèches in Ireland.

"Many parents are concerned that their children can be seen by other adults and worry about the misuse of footage."

As for workers' rights, this is something the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, has frequently looked at. In general, CCTV is allowed if it is considered to be "proportionate" to the problem it is there to address.

"Where the camera is pointed can be important," said Dr O'Keeffe. "A good example is the retail industry. CCTV is generally pointed at entrances, not the cash till."

Explicit, voluntary consent from workers for CCTV coverage is also usually required.

In one sense, the issue is just the latest in a long line of clashes between the sometimes competing rights of privacy and security.

Should the Government override one in favour of the other? And what about concern over 'surveillance-creep'?

If total CCTV surveillance is justifiable to protect babies and toddlers in crèches, isn't it acceptable in play schools, Montessori schools or primary schools?

And what about nursing homes, following similar RTÉ exposés of vulnerable elderly citizens being abused last year?

Some will argue this all makes sense, that the innocent have nothing to hide and the guilty will be caught out.

But this is also the argument made by those who argue for a deeper surveillance society.

Irish Independent

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