Video surveillance in changing rooms at leisure centres

Many citizens have contacted us to complain that more and more leisure centre operators have installed video cameras in sensitive areas such as changing rooms and toilets. This is an extremely worrying development since it violates the privacy of the persons concerned.

The use of video cameras in toilets and changing rooms is a violation of an individual's privacy and constitutes a serious infringement of their personality rights. Even though the reason for installing such surveillance devices is quite understandable in most cases, usually to prevent or to punish theft, it is virtually impossible to condone such serious infringements of personality rights. The use of surveillance cameras in the toilets and changing rooms of leisure centres is therefore not compatible with data protection requirements.

In spite of this, numerous inquiries, as well as reports in the media, drew our attention to the use of such surveillance devices in the toilets and changing rooms of swimming pools, fitness studios and restaurants. The subject became one of the lead stories in the press during the autumn of last year. Many swimming pools had apparently installed cameras in the changing rooms in order to prevent theft. At the request of several citizens, we carried out an examination of one of the swimming pools in question and made a close inspection of the video surveillance system that had been installed in the changing room area.

The results of our inspection showed that no filming had taken place in the changing rooms themselves. The cameras had been installed in the general changing room area in the vicinity of the lockers, because that is where most of the break-ins and thefts had taken place. The problem was exacerbated because of poor visibility over the entire facility. Due to the design of the changing room area (separate changing room areas for women and men, and benches placed in front of the lockers), many bathers decided not to head for the single changing cubicles that were some distance away, but opted to change directly in front of the lockers that were covered by the surveillance cameras. As a result, the cameras filmed most of the guests as they changed. Very few people actually realised that they were right in front of the cameras since there was no sign pointing to their use. Thus the video surveillance system had the same effect as if the cameras had been mounted in the single cubicles, and hence the privacy of the individual was clearly being violated.

In order to prevent such situations arising, video surveillance cameras used in changing rooms and toilet areas must meet the general requirements that can be found in our explanatory leaflet on video surveillance by private individuals (see our factsheet «Video Surveillance by Private Individuals»). In addition, in order to comply with data protection requirements, cameras may not be installed in individual toilets or changing cubicles.

Cameras may be installed in changing room areas or in toilet blocks, provided that they do not cover the entire area and people can change without being filmed (for instance by going into the individual cubicles or into spaces that are not within the camera's field of vision). Individual cubicles must not be visible to the cameras. There must be a sufficient number of such cubicles and of a sufficient size so that people can use them easily. Clearly marked signs must be provided so that individuals know exactly which areas are covered by the cameras and which are not.

More information on this subject can be found in the explanatory section on video surveillance in changing rooms and toilets (available in German, French and Italian).

The operator of the swimming pool which we inspected took the concerns raised by guests and our own objections seriously. A new concept has now been developed and the operator has decided to forgo, at the least for the time being, the use of any cameras in the changing room area. We returned to the facility for an on-site inspection and verified that the cameras in question had been removed. The surveillance system in operation at the swimming pool now meets data protection requirements.