A McDonald's restaurant is filming patrons on a security camera when they go to the bathroom - an increasingly common practice that is being investigated by the Privacy Commissioner.

Though McDonald's says it has received no complaints about the camera in its Papakura outlet, Privacy Commission adviser Cathy Henry said the office was investigating a complaint about closed-circuit television (CCTV) in another toilet this year.

A sign in the McDonald's men's room entreats patrons to "smile!" for the camera. "This camera is not here to invade your privacy, it's here to stop vandalism." The camera, inside a dark dome on the ceiling, is visible to people approaching the urinal and standing inside the cubicle, but not when seated. The company said the camera was fixed, faced the mirror over the hand basin, and wasn't watching people do their business. McDonald's spokesman Simon Kenny said it was installed in 2010 after a spate of misbehaviour. "Since they put that in, there has been zero vandalism."

The Privacy Commission offers guidelines for companies who use or want to use CCTV. Companies should let people know where cameras operated, and how to contact the camera operator. "Anyone should be able to ask to see that policy," the guidelines say.


Anybody can ask to access their personal information, and generally companies holding that information, including CCTV footage, must make it available. But the company had to protect the privacy of others caught on camera.

McDonald's sent the Herald on Sunday a clip of a visit by a reporter, on request.

Kenny said there were 32 cameras at the Papakura store. Only one was in a rest room. It was up to McDonald's franchisees what security devices they put in stores, he said, and the Papakura store had consulted local police before installing the camera.

The issue of CCTV cameras in rest rooms has provoked legal questions in the last few years. Last July, Wainuiomata High School made news after installing CCTV cameras in some school toilets. And in 2010, a parliamentary committee looked into the use of CCTV cameras in a Kaikoura Council public toilet.

The Justice Ministry told the committee there was no law banning CCTV from public toilets, but covert video recordings of people naked, part-naked, having sex, showering or toileting would be illegal.