LONDON — At the King Ecgbert School in Sheffield, teens who go to the bathroom are never really alone — video cameras are inside all 12 loos.
Citing findings gathered via freedom-of-information requests, privacy activists Wednesday identified King Ecgbert as one of more than 200 high schools across Britain that have installed surveillance cameras in bathrooms or locker rooms.
The group behind the report, Big Brother Watch, said a powerful watchdog is needed to ensure that students' privacy is protected.
The report "will come as a shock to many parents," said director Nick Pickles. "Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage."
Lesley Bowes, King Ecgbert's principal, argued that the cameras help keep her students safe.
"It's a way of safeguarding our children," Bowes said. She described her school's cameras — whose footage is reviewed only if there is suspicion of wrongdoing — as useful anti-bullying tools. And she rejected any suggestion that the recording captures the students' most intimate activities, saying the cameras monitor just the doors.
"The cameras are nowhere near the toilet cubicles," she said.
A total of 207 high schools across England, Wales and Scotland acknowledged installing cameras in toilets and changing rooms, according to Big Brother Watch, which sent freedom-of-information requests to nearly 4,100 schools in May. That's a conservative figure, according to Pickles. Nearly half the schools queried didn't reply by the deadline.
It isn't clear where in the bathrooms all those cameras are being placed, who is watching or whether any youngsters have been taped in states of undress.
The Information Commissioner's Office, an independent authority in Britain whose duties include promoting privacy, said recording in toilets or changing rooms is legal, but it is recommended that it be used only in the most exceptional circumstances.