Big Brother Watches You Sweat

Creative Commons by Unfocussed Mike

Last year, the local community gym, Britannia Centre in Vancouver, decided to go big brother on our sweaty asses. Suddenly, there were cameras cameras everywhere with these cute little signs saying something similar to “This area is monitored for your safety.” Maybe it was part of the whole Olympic movement, a way for Big Brother to surreptitiously move in and monitor everything and never leave, or maybe the gym was experiencing some great surge of violence or thievery.

However, as happens when one works out sometimes body parts need adjusting. Guys need to shift genitalia, women need to shift breasts in bras. One can turn away or go into the cooldown room and quickly make an adjustment without anyone seeing. Not so now. It’s recorded on cameras. But perhaps I was just being paranoid as I sweated away, so I wrote the name located on those cute little signs.

Dear ,

I have several questions about the spyeye cameras at the Britannia gym.

  • Was there an incident or incidents that caused the need for cameras? If so, what was it? Should I be on the lookout for suspicious and dangerous characters?
  • If someone were to attack me in the mat room, or elsewhere, would these cameras save me, as in, is someone actively watching them and will run to my aid, or will they just have evidence when they pick up my pieces?
  • Who is authorized to watch these videos from the camera?
  • Are they watched as they run or reviewed at a later time?
  • How often are they reviewed?
  • Where are they stored and how?
  • How long are the videos kept?
  • Are they a deterrent for public mischief or for personal harm?

I have never had or seen any altercations in the gym in all my years there. How should I feel more protected now?

Thank you,

Colleen Anderson

Having once worked for a hi-tech company I knew what some of the answers should be so I was curious to see if this person was a buffer to what was already set in stone or if they were willing to hear other sides. Here is the first response (I’ve only corrected the typos):

Hi Colleen,

Thanks for taking the time to communicate with me regarding your perspective on video cameras.  We have had cameras in the fitness centre since the late 1990’s.  Recently we upgraded the system.  The research is inconclusive as to the efficacy of cameras as a deterrent, that said we do need balance the needs of our community.

Staff requested the video cameras because of a number of instances where they felt unsafe with patrons who were aggressive and potentially dangerous, they were also dealing with increased number of complaints of theft inside and outside the fitness centre – bikes.  We have excellent staff who work hard to de-escalate conflict situations, this is just one tool that works alongside other strategies to assist in their work to create a comfortable space for all.  We have an obligation to support staff to the best of our abilities, this includes training, adequate staffing levels and communication tools.

They are just cameras and will not ‘save’ you.  The deterrent is in the collection of evidence for prosecution in the event of a crime – property or personal.  They are not used for surveillance, no one monitors or reviews recordings, images are relayed in real time to a monitor at the pool counter, but their role is not to monitor.

Footage is recorded and kept for 30 days unless there is a Britannia incident report or a police criminal report, in that case the Executive Director, who is the only person authorized to access the recordings, may request that recordings over a particular period be saved.  These recordings must be appropriate labeled, viewing logs set up and they may be saved for up to one year.  Only the Executive Director has the authority to release or view the recordings under specific conditions such as a written request from authorized law enforcement.  The recordings are labeled and stored in an area that is secured.

We follow the guidelines provided by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC.

It is great to know that you have never experienced any altercations in the gym, we most certainly hope to keep it that way.  If you have any other question please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

I should point out that the gym has a large space with all the weights and other machines. Off of that is a small room with windows overlooking the stairs up to the gym, that has mats and is for stretching/cool down. There is no way to exit that room without going through the gym. Yet they decided to put a camera in this room. Stealing a mat or a dumbbell would mean carrying those rather large and bulky objects through the rest of the gym. Someone would probably notice. However, next to the mat room is a balcony on which people can work out or walk outside for a breath of air. It’s not large but there are no cameras on it, only pointing inside. It’s much easier to take a mat or a medicine ball and toss it over the ledge to someone below. So I responded:

Dear ,

I do understand the need of some cameras at the gym, outside the building and perhaps at prime entries, but I think there is an overkill going on.

There is a camera in the cooldown room. There is no way in or out of this except through a door that enters into the gym proper. Anyone stealing anything would have to tuck it (mostly mats and medicine balls and weights) under their clothes to get it out through the gym. There isn’t even room in there for people to bring a pack. If in fact something went missing and the staff said, someone stole a weight, would these videos even be looked at for something like that? If I’m being mugged in that room I’m sure someone would hear it in the gym.

So if they won’t “save” me and their efficacy as a deterrent is nebulous, why are they in there? A camera at the gym doors, and maybe where people put their packs makes sense but I feel there is absolutely no good reason to have them in every corner or in the cooldown room. You also say they are not used for surveillance yet images are relayed to the counter which means in fact that people can monitor them or watch.

So anyone working there or standing at the counter can see what’s going on, at least in part. This is not a secure monitoring.

I still cannot see how this measure protects staff, clients or deters thefts and vandalism. Why not have one in the locker rooms then too to make sure people don’t break into lockers? I would support some cameras but not the one in the cooldown room and perhaps there are others but I use the gym and not the pool areas.

Thank you,

Hi Colleen,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on cameras in the fitness centre, the fitness centre has a number of blind spots which is why so many cameras, as you so eloquently stated – overkill, are required. Staff, in reference to security, requested that cameras, which have been in operation in the facility since the 1990’s be upgraded and increased as they often are working alone in the space. The fitness centre facility was originally built in 1976 and was actually a quarter of the existing space, over the years we have eliminated the pool lounge and spectator areas to make way for more fitness gear, consequently the space is extremely cut up. In order to maintain a consistent presence we required a number of cameras. You are completely correct in saying that the efficacy of cameras have not been proven OR disproven, however as an employer it is incumbent on us to address staff safety concerns. It is in poor form for Management to insinuate that we know better than the individuals involved and determine what makes them safe or feel safer.

We conducted a survey with staff and provided opportunities for patrons to comment on the use of cameras – you are the third person responding.

That said we depend on a number of tools to ensure good customer and staff experience in our facilities, this includes better conflict management training, site signage and lighting. If you are being mugged in the fitness centre – we have already failed our responsibility. The key for us is to prevent/deter any conflicts and create a positive environment.

You have not been specific about what you would like as an outcome.  I hope my comments have been helpful, if you have other concerns please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

I guess I wasn’t specific when I said it was overkill. Of course I need to send another letter pointing out that the cameras rarely deter the thieves because they probably know the images are rarely perused. The camera certainly didn’t make me feel better when I walked into the mat room one day to find this weirdo in his tighty whities laying on a map and humping it from what I could tell. By the time I could even find an attendant the pervert had wandered off. Had he been a different style of pervert and fondled me the cameras would have done nothing in stopping that. As I’d pointed out in my first letter, the cameras wouldn’t save me, they didn’t deter a pervert and should there have been pieces of me then the videos would be surveyed but only then. This person never addressed my comments about the non-secure monitor at the front desk after she told me that only the director could view them. So let’s see:

  1. no proof that it deters thieves
  2. will not keep people safe, will not endanger them
  3. no one can view but the executive director
  4. everyone at the counter can view the cameras in present time
  5. cameras are in spots where they do no good
  6. cameras aren’t in spots where things could actually be stolen
  7. Nebulous…the staff would be safer
  8. didn’t stop a pervert
  9. management doesn’t know what would make staff feel safer (her words)

In the end it seems a knee-jerk reaction in this world of everything under surveillance, and as she said I was only the third person to comment it tells me that we’re complacent to the infringement of our rights. The biggest pervert is the constant stare of those cameras and while management pretends they’re making their staff safer (as opposed to having to people on at a time) they are ignoring the fact that they’re infringing on their patrons’ privacy. When the tanks start rolling down the streets I imagine it will be much the same. Big Brother took a little longer to get here than 1984 but be assured he’s here.

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2 Comments

Filed under crime, Culture, life, people, sports

2 responses to “Big Brother Watches You Sweat

  1. Burl

    Colleen,

    Don’t let them off the hook about who is watching the recordings during “real time”. Maybe it would be a good idea to see how many others have concerns and have not communicated with management.

  2. Kevin

    What we have here is a case of a publicly-funded waste of tax payers’ money. Funding for community centres comes from the City. The fees we pay to use the gym, skate in the rink, and so on are just a drop in the bucket of what it actually costs to operate these facilities. As a non-profit, publicly-funded enterprise, however, they must be responsive and respective of all input / feedback / complaints / inquiries from members of the public. Thus, what you have in Colleen’s correspondence is a concerned member of the public (i.e. Colleen (who has, perhaps, a somewhat impish sense of humour) ) asking serious questions of someone employed by a publicly-funded-waste-of-taxpayers’ money who probably couldn’t get a job in the private sector if her government-subsidized ass depended on it.

    Bravo, Colleen. Take the fuckers down. May I suggest, however, that you switch to a private enterprise gym such as Fitness Xpress (located, ironically, in the former MacDonald’s on 1st Avenue). I’ve never seen a security camera there, but if they have them, and were you to inquire about what becomes of what the cameras record, they would likely reply that the recordings are used for entertainment at staff Christmas parties.

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