Residents of the Rikkers-Lubbers building watched in disbelief when maintenance men tromped into their spacious common room to install a brand-new CCTV camera. Just outside, another new security camera was going in. It would have an unobstructed view of their private backyard.
‘We didn´t know what was going on. The workers just came in and put up the cameras without saying much to us’, says Oliver Horstmann, an economics and business student and one of the very first residents of the building.
On 14 September, the 56 international tenants of the former nursing home received a terse email from StudentStay, the housing company responsible for managing Rikkers-Lubbers house. The email stated that a camera system would be installed sometime in the coming weeks. No other information or explanations were provided.
Repeated complaints from neighbours about noise coming from the building prompted the company to issue a warning to the tenants in a separate email dated 11 September.
Students say the general lack of communication from the housing company is a headache. ‘We don’t really know what’s going on with the neighbour situation; nearly all news and updates we receive are from the media, and not from StudentStay’, says Oliver.
The new security cameras were installed on 20 September and students have felt unsettled ever since, Oliver says. Residents are mostly concerned about the CCTV device eyeing their cosy common room. Victoria Cassola, an international communications student, says the ever-watching, unblinking eye of the camera is ‘annoying’.
The Rikkers-Lubbers house already had a couple of security cameras installed in the corridors and main entrances to the building. But because the new CCTV devices interfere with private life and collect personal data, StudentStay ‘should have informed students and discussed the matter with them’, says Jonida Milaj-Weishaar, an assistant professor at RUG’s Faculty of Law. Milaj-Weishaar has conducted research into surveillance tools and technologies.
She thinks students have a right to know why the cameras are being put up. ‘Just informing the students about the fact that cameras will be installed – without informing them about the reasons for this action, the use of the data collected, their processing and the period of retention – could not qualify as informed consent by the students on the instalment of the cameras.’
Because the students did not consent, Milaj-Weishaar concludes that StudentStay ‘needs some permission from the municipality on the grounds of public security concerns’.
StudentStay could not confirm whether they had in fact obtained such permission, but an employee says the process of installing the cameras ‘was discussed with a legal adviser’.