A group of students who ripped down a "covert" camera outside the boys' bathrooms at an Auckland college say they were shocked and concerned at the camera's placement, and believed it might have been able to capture them "exposed".
However, Rutherford College principal Gary Moore says there was nothing sinister with the CCTV camera - that had been operating for many years - and it was there to both protect students and use if any incidents took place.
The boy who took the camera down is now being asked to pay for the damages caused by its removal and to replace it after it was given back but no longer working.
A student, who declined to be named, said he and his friends first noticed the camera when they saw a light blinking from a small box placed up on a wall outside the bathroom entrance.
He said when they discovered it he felt like "the school's filming us".
Adding to their fears, they were disturbed that it had been labelled "cable junction box", instead of "CCTV in operation".
The students weren't sure how wide the lens was but thought it might have been able to capture them in the bathroom exposed.
The camera is positioned on the wall in the foyer area outside the door to the boys' toilets in D Block. Photo / Supplied
They removed the camera but were eventually caught and asked to give it back and pay for the cost of damages.
The student thought the camera might've been there in an attempt to catch students smoking but said it was "inappropriate" and made them feel uncomfortable.
Moore confirmed the camera had been taken and was eventually returned.
He was unsure how long the camera had been in place, suggesting "a significant length of time", but it was there to keep an eye on students coming and going from the area.
"Sometimes it's helped to prove something, that someone's suggested, sometimes it helped to safeguard someone who's had an allegation against them ... I can't remember it not being there but that's not to say it hasn't been changed or upgraded in my 14 years here.
What was left of the box after the students removed the camera. Photo / Supplied
"It's not like it's just gone up."
The camera did not point into the bathroom. Instead, the view simply captured those coming in and out of the toilet and the foyer area.
"It screens straight to the entry door and it's a straight line to the foyer back into D Block where they walk in from D Block itself."
He said he was "disappointed" the student had "taken matters into his own hands assuming it was something it wasn't" and wished he had simply asked him what the cameras were for.
"Most schools will have cameras around to be honest, to see who is going in and out."
The student had told the deputy principal, who carried out the investigation involving the boy and his parents, that he was "suspicious of the legality of the hidden camera".
Moore denied the camera was hidden, stating: "It's not hidden. It's clearly in view."
However, when told it doesn't look like a normal camera, he accepted that and said it was one of the older models of CCTV cameras around the school. Others were the more modern, circular-styled cameras.
Asked whether he had informed the school community about the presence of CCTV cameras, Moore said he probably hadn't this year due to Covid and it wasn't something he would have promoted through newsletters.
The camera they found hidden inside the box on the wall. Photo / Supplied
The student also claimed they were told by the school not to mention the cameras to other students, a claim Moore was unaware of.
Kim Shannon, head of education infrastructure services, said schools did not require permission from parents to install CCTV.
However, guidance from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is that there should be notices about the presence of cameras, and policy guidelines in place about storage and access to the information collected.
Decisions about the use and installation of CCTV in schools are the responsibility of the school board of trustees and principal, she said.
text by Belinda Feek and Kim Moodie, NZ Herald