November 17th, 2015

Call to clarify law on filming domestic workers

joint statementRecently, the media has discussed the camera surveillance of domestic workers by employers. Reports state (and our experience tells us) that this includes the use of cameras in bathrooms and in the workers’ sleeping quarters.

As organisations who work to promote women’s and migrants’ rights, we have strong concerns about this practice. Camera surveillance undermines workers’ dignity and can be highly distressing for them.

This impact exists even when cameras are only installed in areas such as living rooms or kitchens. But it is especially acute if all of a residence is included. Live-in workers then endure round-the-clock surveillance, with no moments of privacy in the entire 24-hour cycle, placing a heavy toll on mental well-being.

In our view, the use of surveillance cameras in bathrooms and sleeping quarters, areas where people regularly undress and perform very private activities, do and should amount to offences punishable under the criminal law.

“Surveillance capturing a domestic worker in a state of undress could constitute insulting the modesty of a woman under the Penal Code,” states Choo Zheng Xi of Peter Low LLC.

Many people have been convicted on charges of insult of modesty or outrage of modesty for filming others in bathrooms (see selection of media reports below). The precedents are clear: this behaviour is an unacceptable invasion of privacy. Even if the motivation is non-sexual, the invasive conduct is no less damaging to the victim’s privacy and mental well-being.

The grounds for any surveillance at all are tenuous. Of over 220,000 domestic workers in Singapore, and many more who have worked here in the past, only a very small proportion have harmed members of their employers’ families. The unrepresentative experiences of a few cannot justify the pre-emptive ill-treatment of domestic workers in general. Selectivity in engaging caregivers, and efforts to develop positive relationships with them, are far fairer and less damaging ways of preventing abuse.

Domestic workers have no power to find out or control how footage of them may be used or circulated by their employers, now or in the future. Filming them in the bathroom or sleeping quarters puts them in a position of great vulnerability.

We urge the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Law, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Singapore Police Force to publicly clarify that using cameras in workers’ bathrooms and sleeping quarters is illegal and unacceptable. We also urge the Ministry of Manpower to discourage the use of camera surveillance in general, in its guidance on best practice for employers.

Signed by:
AWARE
TWC2

This statement has also been sent to the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Law, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Singapore Police Force.

Precedents:

1. Man accused of filming women in church toilets, The Straits Times, 14 September 2013: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/man-accused-of-filming-women-in-church-toilets
2. Voyeur landlord sentenced to a month in jail for filming tenant in toilet, Coconuts Singapore, 7 April 2015: http://singapore.coconuts.co/2015/04/07/voyeur-landlord-sentenced-month-jail-filming-tenant-toilet
3. Poly teen caught filming in women’s toilet, The New Paper, 7 June 2015: http://news.asiaone.com/news/crime/poly-teen-caught-filming-womens-toilet

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