Fear of CCTV surveillance in classrooms looms over Hong Kong schools

Published (HKT): 2021.03.16 14:36

The Education Bureau has made a rare move to check on the installation of surveillance cameras in schools across Hong Kong, after pro-Beijing lawmakers called for CCTV in classrooms to ensure teachers comply with the national security law.

Multiple school principals have confirmed to Apple Daily that they have received calls from the education authority last week, claiming they were conducting a “survey” on whether and how many spy cameras have been installed on campus, as well as the locations and amount of money involved.

The officials, however, did not ask for the schools’ opinion on bringing CCTV in classrooms.

The bureau’s latest move has reignited concerns from educators, who find themselves under increasing political pressure from the government and Beijing loyalists for months. They worried that the calls are just another step towards compulsory surveillance in Hong Kong classrooms.

A veteran school principal told Apple Daily, on the condition of anonymity, that teachers would avoid touching on sensitive political issues or sharing personal experiences under the chilling effect of monitoring. They would end up reading straight from textbooks, he warned, slamming the surveillance “an obstruction to education.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Tommy Cheung, who called for CCTV in classrooms one week after the security law took effect in July last year, brought up the proposal again at a legislative committee meeting last month. Education Undersecretary Christine Choi said installing cameras is not an “executive order” and schools may decide on their own.

The Education Bureau did not respond directly to the inquiry about the purpose of asking schools about their cameras, saying it regularly communicates with schools on different issues to understand their operations.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said the current Privacy Ordinance does not prohibit any individual or organization from installing spy cameras, but schools should consider whether such installations are “necessary and reasonable,” and should fully consult teaching staff, students and parents.

Lawyer Chong Yiu-kwong said it would be difficult to prove the necessity of installing CCTV in classrooms. It is unreasonable to invade a teachers’ privacy with cameras when he or she has no prior record of inappropriate behavior in class.

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