PLANS to install underwater CCTV cameras in swimming pools as part of a “public safety” drive by a local authority have been criticised by privacy campaigners.
Moray Council intends to become the first local authority in Scotland to install cameras at public pools, with the equipment due to be rolled out across facilities in Buckie, Forres and Keith later this year.
The CCTV devices will send high-resolution images to a bank of screens at the poolside areas, where lifeguards will monitor any swimmers who may get into difficulties.
However, a leading civil liberties group has described the approach as “potentially intrusive” with no clear evidence as to how it will make the pools safer for the public. It added that lifeguards who monitor pool users outside the water do a better job of keeping an eye on members of the public.
Although the initiative will cost £45,000, it is seen as a cost-saving measure which will recoup around £23,000 a year, given the need for fewer relief lifeguards stationed at the three pools during busy periods.
The decision to use the technology, which is commonplace in coverage of major swimming events on television, has raised questions over the personal privacy of swimmers.
Emma Carr, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: “Many swimmers will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable at the thought of CCTV cameras watching them as they swim and they will rightly question whether such a system is truly necessary.
“According to CCTV regulations, councils must prove that there will be a limited threat to the privacy of members of the public if they install a CCTV camera, which in this case is certainly questionable.
“Such a potentially intrusive system should not be installed on a whim, so the public should be consulted and the council should provide clear evidence of how many threats to life will be prevented after the system is installed.”
She added: “I imagine that given the choice, people would prefer a lifeguard on duty. There also needs to be some explanation of how that would actually make the public safer, as surely the CCTV cameras will need to be constantly monitored in order to see if anyone is in trouble.
“That would perhaps be better coming from a lifeguard by the pool rather than a CCTV camera operator in a backroom somewhere.”
However, Moray Council, which has been forced to make a series of tough budget decisions over the past two years, dismissed the claims.
A spokesman said: “Safety of our swimmers is paramount and the council doesn’t believe there’s any personal intrusion as only trained members of staff will be operating the equipment. This is first and foremost an issue of safety.
“The technology sends high-resolution images to the lifeguards who can monitor the situation in the pool in real time.
“The cameras will be recording but no images will ever be stored as it will be a live stream straight to the lifeguards.”
Other authorities across the UK have been criticised for installing similar underwater CCTV systems. In West Sussex, swimmers criticised management at a leisure centre in East Grinstead for installing a “pool view” network of cameras, claiming it was a “gross invasion of privacy”.
However, three years ago a man was successfully prosecuted for sexually assaulting a teenager at a St Helens pool which had underwater cameras.
It is understood about 30 of the so-called drowning detection systems have been installed across the UK. Some set-ups also use wristbands and sensors to monitor swimmers.