Simply confusing

Blanka Hay on the CCTV camera hidden in a Manchester bar's toilet

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A controversial Youtube clip showing a secret camera in the men’s toilets of a Manchester bar went viral last week, with over 11,000 views within 24 hours.

The video, filmed in Simple in Northern Quarter, has tapped into already growing public concern over the rise of CCTV usage.

Cristian Chesha, who prefers not to provide his real last name, uploaded the footage after noticing more vents than he thought normal as he used the venue’s toilet. The video, which he has called “Simple NQ are watching you pee”, shows Chesha unveiling the hidden camera and pans the cubicle’s bare walls without any signs informing users of CCTV.

Private areas

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – which regulates CCTV use – said: “Cameras and listening devices should not be installed in private areas such as toilets and private offices, except in the most exceptional circumstances where serious crime is suspected. This should only happen where there is an intention to involve the police, not where it is a purely internal disciplinary matter.”


Moreover, the ICO guidelines state that when cameras are placed in locations where privacy is expected, “the operator should make extra effort to ensure” people are aware of them.

Simple’s owner Michael Huckerby claimed the camera was a “dummy” – a real camera fitted in 2003 to deter drug use and vandalism at a time when the Northern Quarter was run down, but inoperable since 2006.

“The camera always faced away from the toilet so we could not see anybody using the facilities, but we could identify the offenders,” said Huckerby, adding that there were “prominent signs displayed around the venue informing customers of the cameras when they were in use”.

The ICO will not be investigating the case as the CCTV equipment is no longer operational and no official complaints have been made. If reported and found guilty of breaking the Data Protection Act however, the breach to privacy could incur anything between an undertaking and a £500,000 fine.

Martyn Partington, owner of Nortec Visual Management Systems, Simple’s CCTV and alarm systems installer, claimed “no footage of any description has ever been viewed or recorded” on that camera since the company installed a new security camera system two years ago.

No explanation

It remains unclear why the camera was hidden, considering it was aimed at deterring crime, and there has been no explanation as to why there were no extra signs highlighting the camera in the toilet, in accordance with ICO guidelines.

There are 1.85 million CCTV cameras registered in the UK, 1.7 million of which are privately owned and run. As long ago as 2008 the then Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, told The Big Issue in the North that British people have “woken up in a surveillance society”.

Chesha said: “The state of CCTV in Britain is out of control. It was only a matter of time before the last bastion of privacy was breached.”

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