Two private primary schools, Good Hope Primary School and Pooi To Primary School, were found to have installed one or more CCTV cameras in their classrooms for 12 years and at least four years respectively, according to photos posted in the past. Parents told FactWire that they did not know about the surveillance.
Without placing enough CCTV operation notices on site, both schools may have failed to fully comply with the relevant guidance issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.
FactWire evaluated photos of 50 primary schools from the schools’ websites and social media accounts, among which CCTV cameras were seen in the classrooms of two schools.
Good Hope Primary School and Kindergarten (Primary Section), a renowned traditional school in Ngau Chi Wan, has CCTV cameras installed in at least eleven of its classrooms. According to a school photo album from the 2019-2020 academic year, the cameras are positioned at the back of the classrooms facing the whiteboard and teacher’s desk.
According to an online photo, a camera was installed in a similar position in 2009 when the construction of the campus building had just been completed.
FactWire evaluated a large volume of classroom photos from this school year but did not find any notices about its CCTV operation. This may be seen as a violation of the Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones, issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.
Pooi To Primary School, located in Kowloon City, was also found to have installed CCTV cameras in its classrooms. Photos posted on the school’s website show that CCTV cameras were already installed in at least three classrooms in 2017. Yellow notices were posted on the notice boards warning that CCTV is in operation.
Class photos of the 2018-2019 academic year show CCTV cameras in at least three classrooms, where relevant notices could not be seen in the photos. In photos of another three classrooms, CCTV operation notices are found but not of the cameras.
Christmas celebration photos of the 2019-2020 academic year show at least ten classrooms installed with CCTV cameras. The cameras were placed near the whiteboard, facing the students’ seats. CCTV operation notices can be observed in the photos of only two of these classrooms.
In addition, some of the photos that Pooi To Primary School’s principal Chan Man-yee took with her students, found on her Facebook account, show CCTV cameras installed in the school’s classrooms. One of these photos, dated January 19, 2021, shows two CCTV cameras in one classroom.
FactWire interviewed parents outside the campuses of both schools to ask whether they were informed about the use of CCTV in classrooms. All ten parents whom FactWire spoke to outside Good Hope Primary School said they did not know about the issue. Some said they did not know about the cameras.
A father surnamed Liu expressed his concern about the children’s privacy, ‘It is only reasonable to use CCTV at locations with safety concerns, such as entrances or exits,’ he said, ‘but I don’t think there is a safety concern in classrooms where all the children have lessons together.’
Another parent, Mrs Lau, was rather concerned about the impact upon the teachers and the unfairness involved, based on the positioning of the cameras. ‘The current social atmosphere makes me suspect that these cameras were installed to target the teachers,’ she said, ‘but as we send our children here, I think there should be trust between the teachers and us.’
There are also parents who are less concerned about surveillance. For example, one parent believes that privacy is not a concern for children having lessons and agrees that CCTV can help monitor teachers’ performance. Another one found surveillance acceptable as long as the system is used with a ‘correct purpose’, for example to ensure the wellbeing of students, adding that the footage should be kept internal.
As for Pooi To Primary School, almost 20 parents with whom FactWire spoke were unaware of the installation of CCTV cameras, although they did not show much concern. One of them described it as an ‘irresistible general trend’. Another parent did not regard it as a problem as she has full confidence towards the school.
One of the parents, Mrs Lee, supports the idea of installing CCTV in classrooms, pointing out that it allows abuse to be recorded and seen. Another parent, Mr Chow, also does not see the use of CCTV in classrooms as a privacy concern because he views classrooms as public areas, just like streets. However, he hoped the school’s policy would become more transparent, by notifying parents about the coverage of cameras and the right to watch footage.
A number of students FactWire spoke to knew of the presence of CCTV cameras. Two of them recalled what their teachers had told them, that any wrongdoings would be recorded by the cameras.
FactWire reached Pooi To Primary School’s principal Chan Man-yee outside the campus for enquiries. When asked whether the school had notified parents about the use of CCTV in classrooms, she briefly replied ‘yes… in classrooms’. FactWire tried to clarify by asking whether the school had issued any parent notices on the matter, Chan again responded, ‘Yes, yes,’ and requested that FactWire make an appointment to speak at another time before quickly returning to the campus.
FactWire then sent the enquiries through email to the both schools. Good Hope Primary School said it would not respond to any questions. No response from Pooi To Primary School has been received thus far, as a member of its staff said that the principal was too busy for an interview. The staff added that the school did notify parents about the use of CCTV in classrooms, but no further details were given.
FactWire also sent an email to over 600 local and international primary schools to enquire about the use of CCTV in their classrooms. None of them has given a response after a week.
The Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones, issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, states that the data user should ensure that ‘the people affected are explicitly informed that they are under CCTV surveillance, the purpose of surveillance and the means to raise an enquiry.’ In addition, the personal data collected by the CCTV system should be deleted as soon as practicable when the purpose of surveillance is completed, according to the guidance.
Pursuant to the guidance, ways to inform the people affected include putting up conspicuous notices at the entrance to the monitored area, and affixing further notices inside the area as reinforcement. The notices should contain details of the data user operating the CCTV system, the specific purpose of surveillance and the person to whom matters relating to personal data privacy issues can be raised.
The media reported in March this year that the Education Bureau called multiple primary and secondary schools to enquire about their use of CCTV systems. Under Secretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin then said in a Legislative Council meeting that she does not support surveilling teachers’ performance by recording it, describing this as a ‘negative’ method that might harm the trust towards teachers and the flexibility in lesson design. She hoped that students would be able to learn in a safe, natural environment that allows for free expression.
A paper submitted by the Education Bureau to the Legislative Council states that schools that install CCTV systems must ensure compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones. They are required to take into account the necessity, reasonableness and openness of the installation, and reach a consensus with the relevant stakeholders. As regards to whether CCTVs can be installed in classrooms, schools should make the decision in accordance with the above principals and their school contexts.