Virgin Active Singapore has CCTV near changing areas, members feel violated

Virgin Active says camera is placed at women-only communal area, but members say some of them walk around naked there

The discovery of a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera in a women-only area of a fitness club has shocked its members.

And the operator's initial flippant response to their concerns made them more upset, with some saying their trust had been violated.

After a member made a social media post about the CCTV camera in the Raffles Place outlet of Virgin Active Singapore, it responded on Facebook that the camera is pointed at a communal area where female members can pick up a bathrobe before using the facilities.

The post added: "We certainly would not advise members to do their stretches there. Other than our concerns over their safety and hygiene, it sure would be a waste of their membership fees...."

This attempt at humour did not sit well with the members, who were also unimpressed by the snarky tone of the replies to comments on the post.

Members pointed out that some women are often seen in various states of undress in the communal area and this would have been captured by the CCTV camera.

Ms Sissy Lau, 35, who works at an oil and chemical tanker firm, told The New Paper: "It's right next to the steam room and shower area. It's natural that people will treat it as a private area and think it's safe to remove their clothes there."

Ms Lau, who has been going to Virgin Active for two years, said: "I've seen women walking in the area completely naked. The last thing we want to hear is the footage is being viewed by the staff. That would be a nightmare."

She was concerned who has access to the footage and whether it would be leaked.

Ms Lau, who felt her privacy had been violated, added: "It's not okay to be watched or filmed while we are in a vulnerable state."

Other members who have used the gym for years also expressed their concern On Virgin Active's Facebook page, stating that they had never been made aware of the CCTV camera.

"I can tell you that I'm extremely unhappy finding out that I was unaware of cameras in this area after patronising the club for more than 2 years," one of them commented.

Another said: "It is assumed that the entire female changing room is off-camera. Doesn't matter where the thing is pointed. If I were to shed my towel and walk to retrieve a fresh bathrobe and towel, the camera would film me in full glory."

When contacted by TNP, Virgin Active, which has since apologised to its members, said: "The communal area of the ladies Relax and Recovery Zone follows from the ladies changing room and shower area, and can only be accessed by female members and staff only."

While it stressed that the area is not considered part of the changing rooms, lawyers said that as long as it is in a place where users can reasonably expect not to be filmed, there should be no cameras.

Mr Steve Tan, a lawyer specialising in data protection and cybersecurity law, told TNP that organisations deploying CCTV cameras must be aware that they must act reasonably.

"They must not install cameras in places where one would not logically view as being reasonable, such as changing rooms or toilets," he said.

Virgin Active, which has six outlets islandwide, said on Facebook that the camera had been in place since the gym opened in 2013 and added: "The footage is only accessible by the club general manager. No other person has access."

It also told TNP that it generally has CCTV cameras covering all areas, except for the male and female changing rooms, in all its clubs for the safety of its members and staff.

Lawyer Doris Chia said there must be prominent signs to inform users about the cameras. They need the consent of its members to take photos or videos.

Virgin Active said it has put up temporary signs near the CCTV camera while waiting for its contractor to add permanent signage.

Privacy watchdog Personal Data Protection Commission said it is aware of the incident and is looking into it.