By Kuksung Nam, The Readable
Aug. 12, 2022 9:38PM KST
A South Korean regulatory authority has imposed a 5 million won fine (approximately $3,800) on an all-male private high school in Gyeongju, a city in southeastern South Korea, for putting nine CCTV cameras in the school’s student bathrooms.
The Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC) announced the decision on Wednesday. The decision was settled in the thirteenth plenary session, the PIPC said in a press release.
The PIPC said that the school claimed that they had installed the cameras at the request of the parents to prevent students from smoking or fighting in bathrooms. However,, the commission rejected this claim and fined the school for violating a privacy law.
The Personal Information Protection Act states that “no one shall install and operate any visual data processing device so as to look into places which are likely to noticeably threaten individual privacy.” The law specifically refers to places such as bathrooms, restrooms, and dressing rooms which are used by multiple unspecified persons.
“Although the purpose [of installing the surveillance cameras] could be reasonable, such as to prevent school violence and student smoking, one should not put CCTV in a place that is not only banned by the law but also that could strongly violate one’s privacy,” said Yang Cheong-sam, the Director-General for Investigation and Coordination of the PIPC, in the statement.
The private school has removed all the surveillance cameras installed in the school’s student bathrooms in November 2021 after the PIPC started their inspection in June of last year, according to an official of the PIPC.
A state-owned company in Pyeongchang, a city in northeastern South Korea, was also fined by the regulatory authority on Wednesday for violating the privacy law. The company, which manages the Pyeongchang National Forest, was fined 5 million won for putting a surveillance camera in a place where the camera could record footage of people using the bathroom.
“The CCTV in question was not deliberately installed to record the bathroom. The camera was installed in the hallway. However, the angle of the camera was misplaced, showing unintentionally the window of the bathroom,” explained the official of the PIPC. The Pyeongchang Facilities Management Corporation did not respond to The Readable’s request for comment.
This is not the first time that the regulatory authority fined an organization over violating the privacy law related to surveillance cameras. In June, the PIPC opened the eleventh plenary session and decided to place a 5 million won fine on a company for collecting personal information of its workers through surveillance cameras which were installed in the office without the consent of the workers.
From public places to private locations, surveillance cameras have deeply infiltrated the daily lives of South Koreans. The National Assembly amended the Child Care Act in 2015, including the mandatory installation of surveillance cameras in daycare centers.
The amendment followed a child abuse incident in a daycare center in Incheon, a metropolitan city in South Korea, in January 2015. The surveillance video was released to the public and a wave of anger swept through South Korea, which eventually resulted in revising a law that had not been able to cross the threshold of Congress for years.
Furthermore, starting from September 2023, hospitals must install surveillance cameras in their operating rooms while conducting surgeries on unconscious patients. The Medical Service Act was revised last year for the purpose of protecting the rights and the safety of patients who are undergoing surgery.
However, the controversy over the usage of surveillance cameras is not at the end point. Although the law makes exemptions for video recording in situations such as emergency surgery where the life of the patient is at risk, the medical community has strongly objected to the revision of the law for violating the privacy of medical staff through the monitoring of surgeries.
The cover image of this article was designed by Sangseon Kim.
Kuksung Nam is a cybersecurity journalist for The Readable. She covers cybersecurity issues in South Korea, including the public and private sectors. Prior to joining The Readable, she worked as a political reporter for one of the top-five local newspapers in South Korea, The Kyeongin Ilbo, where she reported several exclusive stories regarding the misconduct of local government officials. She is currently focused on issues related to anti-fraud, as well as threats and crimes in cyberspace. She is a Korean native who is fluent in English and French, and she is interested in delivering the news to a global audience.