Unsafe at school?

November 14, 2021

An inquiry has been launched against a school in Karachi after a staffer spotted hidden cameras in the toilets. However, a case has still not been registered with the FIA

A screengrab of one of the hidden cameras found in the private schools washroom. Photo: Geo News
A screengrab of one of the hidden camera's found in the private school's washroom. Photo: Geo News

The Education Department on November 3 (Wednesday) immediately dispatched an inquiry team for an inspection at a private school after receiving a complaint from a school staffer that she had spotted hidden cameras in the restrooms.

The Education Department’s Directorate of Inspection and Registration of Private Institutions visited the school and found hidden cameras installed in the walls of the toilets at Harracks School situated in Karachi’s low-income locality of Safoora Goth’s Scheme-33.

According to the Education Department, “Hidden CCTV cameras were installed behind a sheet with holes in the area of the washbasins situated with the toilets of girls and boys washrooms so that one can easily watch the movements of male and female students and staff”. The inquiry committee summoned the school administration, asking its principal or senior official to appear before the department on November 4 and explain their position. No official from the school turned up.

Dr Mansoob Hussain Siddiqui, the director-general, subsequently issued an order suspending the registration certificate granted to the school, under Section-8 (1) (Cancellation or suspension of certificate of registration) of the Sindh Private Educational Institutions (Regulation & Control) Ordinance 2001 (Amended) Act, 2003, with immediate effect.

The school building was sealed in the presence of media people as some people raised slogans against the administration of the educational institution and demanded action against the institution for installing hidden cameras in the washrooms. People in the area, parents and students have demanded the registration of a criminal case and arrests of those responsible for an illegal act that violated the privacy of both the teachers and students.

Imran Riaz, the head of Federal Investigation Agency Cyber Crime in Sindh, has expressed his reservations on the role of Education Department in dealing with this case.

Riaz said that despite repeated requests, the Education Department didn’t send its team to un-seal the school so that the FIA could enter the building and gather evidence.

“It is a matter of great concern. I contacted the relevant authorities to update me on the case. I sent a team to school for forensics but to our surprise the Education Department had sealed the building; we didn’t enter the building because of the protocol,” he tells The News on Sunday.

He says that despite repeated requests, the Education Department didn’t send a team to un-seal the school for the FIA team to enter the school and gather evidence.

“We have the relevant forensic expertise to investigate such cases. It is quite strange that we weren’t taken into loop on this case by the provincial government,” he says.

No complaint has meanwhile been registered with the FIA.

“It is surreal to see that despite all the hype, the Education Department has not referred the matter to the relevant agency,” says the provincial cybercrime chief. “We are now using media forums to request people that if they are victim of such invasion of privacy they should contact us so that we can take action according to the law.”

To date, it is not clear how many videos were made, where those were stored (if at all), and whether those were used for child pornography. The FIA cybercrime wing received as many as 14 complaints through Interpol’s National Central Bureau (NCB) about the procurement of child pornography, sharing, or contact with international rings in the years 2018-20. As many as five cases linked to child pornography are under trial in city courts.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 defines child pornography as video content intentionally produced, offered, or made available, distributed, or transmitted through an information system for procurement for one or for another person, or without lawful justification, possession of material in an information system, that visually depicts (1) a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct (b) appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct or (c) realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or (d) disclose the identity of the minor. If proven, as per the PECA, the convict “shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine which may extend to five million rupees or with both.”

Despite repeated requests, no Education Department official had made a statement to this reporter on the matter till the filing of this report.

The writer is a human rights reporter based in Karachi. He covers    conflict, environment and culture

Unsafe at school?