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November 07, 2016
DUBAI // The operator of a gymnasium chain has installed security cameras in changing areas, sparking anger from members and warnings that it could be breaking the law.
Customers of Fitness First Middle East's gym network say their privacy has been invaded, but the company said the cameras had been introduced after consultation with authorities and would improve safety.
"I don't understand the thinking behind this move," said a Fitness First member at Ibn Battuta Mall, one of 34 branches, where seven cameras were set up in the men's changing rooms but not the women's.
"This is a complete invasion of privacy and very unfair on the members. If people don't want to be photographed or filmed in this way, will they give them refunds on their membership fees so that they can join a different gym?"
Hassan Elhais, senior partner at Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants, said the CCTV cameras could be in breach of criminal law.
"It is a very complicated situation but it depends on a number of factors," Dr Elhais said. "Will the cameras be visible or will they be hidden, and will customers be given prior knowledge of the fact that these cameras are in place and recording?"
Dr Elhais said any evidence gathered using hidden cameras might be inadmissible in courts.
"An individual who is recorded in such a manner can file a criminal case against the manager and/or the employee who was responsible for the recording," he said.
"Once the criminal court decides its final decision, the complainant is able to file a separate civil case for compensation."
The courts have discretionary powers in deciding the size of the compensation, he said.
"However, in some cases, if the individual was naked, even if the individual has given his or her permission to be photographed in such a way that may not, in fact, prevent the authorities from beginning a criminal case," said Dr Elhais.
In a privacy case that was in court in February, three government officials who installed CCTV cameras at a women's customer service centre were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Abu Dhabi Court of Cassation found them not guilty of breaching female employees' privacy by setting the cameras at a federal authority's women's branch, overruling earlier suspended jail sentences and a deportation order against one defendant.
Members at Ibn Battuta said they were alerted to the move when signs went up saying security cameras were being installed, next to existing signs discouraging nudity. Some said they should have been consulted before such a decision was announced.
"They didn't even bother to speak to members before putting the cameras in," said another member. "I can't believe they go ahead with this and expect customers to be OK with it." Others felt customers would switch to different gyms in response.
"If it is an issue about safety then maybe they should have more security guards rather than putting in cameras," one said. "But I can see a lot of people going to a different gym now."
The company has been responding to members' concerns through private messages on Twitter, explaining its reasoning for the cameras.
"Following consultation and due diligence with the relevant authorities, Fitness First have installed CCTV in the reception areas, in the male changing areas and on the gym floor," the company said.
"This recent advance has been implemented to further protect our members and our staff while on our business premises. Permission was sought from the director of the Department of Protective Systems.
"The footage is recorded by the Fitness First security company who installed the cameras, and only viewed if required. The footage is deleted after 30 days. It is standard operating procedure by FF to install CCTV throughout the club."
Fitness First has 34 clubs across the UAE.