Bar Live-Streams Footage From Bathrooms for Rest of Patrons to See, Says It's For 'Safety'

A U.K.-based bar is currently the subject of controversy due to an unusual practice: Showtime, in the town of Huddersfield, records the inside of their bathrooms, then broadcasts the footage live for fellow patrons to see.

While somewhat controversial, the practice of recording the public areas of restrooms, such as the sinks or entrance, is legal in the U.K. However, the establishment or institution must have a legitimate reason for doing so.

The bar's management, however, stands by their practice, telling Newsweek that the CCTV cameras are part of their effort to "create the safest venue [they] possibly could."

Noted the U.K. government's Surveillance Camera Code of Practice in 2013: "Deploying surveillance camera systems in public places where there is a particularly high expectation of privacy, such as toilets or changing rooms, should only be done to address a particularly serious problem that cannot be addressed by less intrusive means."

According to Yorkshire Live, an upset Showtime patron contacted the publication about the bar's CCTV policy, denouncing the practice as a violation of his privacy.

"The image I have taken Saturday teatime shows the owners of the premises are recording footage of both the Gents and Ladies' toilets and...then broadcasting it live to the whole pub via a TV above the toilet entrances," said the man.

"Personally, I feel that this is a severe breach of privacy, and everyone that I have spoken to since witnessing this is of the same opinion and cannot believe that it is allowed to happen," he added.

The establishment, however, insists that the cameras are necessary preventive measures that have been implemented to maintain a safe environment.

In an email to Newsweek, owner Ian Snowball, who runs the bar with his son, Adam, explained that Showtime is just one part of a larger venue, The Colosseum, which they hope will one day be the "largest pub in Europe," with a "capacity of up to 5,000."

In building such a massive establishment, Snowball felt that ensuring the business's safety and security was a top priority. "In England, possibly like the rest of the world, venues like ours have to face up to the reality that we have the potential for theft, violence, fires, firearms, knives, drug use and drug dealing," he said. These threats, he explained, are what prompted him to install "a very advanced CCTV system" among other precautions.

Showtime, which makes up one part of The Colosseum, uses "three separate CCTV systems managed from three different locations" combined with AI that scans patrons' faces against a database.

There are also TV screens, "which [allow] the police and the doormen to view any area of the venue live, without even having to enter the venue."

"And yes, you can even see who is in the toilets from there as well but...this is not as voyeuristic as it may at first sound," said Snowball. He explained that the screens above each restroom entrance allow customers to check that restrooms aren't overcrowded—a necessary safety measure in the COVID era.

Additionally, he said the cameras, introduced long before COVID-19, have helped catch multiple instances of drug use and dealing.

"The cameras are positioned so it is impossible to see into the cubicles and only show the hand wash area," noted Snowball. "They are also able to have any area blocked off from viewing, so they are very versatile and be used safely and securely."

He added that the security cameras have never before been an issue with bar-goers. "We have had almost no complaints about it over the years we have had the system up and running," said Snowball, "and as one of the busiest bars in the area, it is clear that people are not put off to the level of boycotting us."

"If they see [CCTV cameras] being used responsibly and see the use is proportionate and for their own benefit and safety, they are comfortable with them in place."

Showtime's bathroom cameras are far from secret: in addition to the screens broadcasting above the restrooms' entrances, the bar explains the policy on their website.

"Cameras and screens to check if the toilets are busy to avoid congestion 'choke points,'" reads one point on their site's list of COVID-19 precautions.

Showtime is far from the only instance of controversial CCTV camera placements. Over the past several years, patrons of other bars in the UK have reported finding security cameras in public bathrooms—which the establishments similarly defended as a preventative measure intended to deter crime.

The practice has also come under fire in school settings, as students have reported spotting CCTV cameras in school bathrooms to their parents. In one such incident late last month, The Independent reported that the installation of security cameras at Framwellgate School in Durham has made students "mortified" to use the restrooms.

"They say it's to prevent bullying," said one enraged parent. "If they want to stop bullying, put cameras on the outside of the door seeing who is going in and out."

Security Camera
A security camera hanging from a building in London, England in 2006. A UK bar is facing heat for recording and broadcasting video from the bathroom. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Updated 09/08/2021, 5:02 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with statements from Ian Snowball, and additional information and background.