I first heard about it a few years ago, back home, and I thought it was a one-off: one of my colleagues recently returning to work after maternity leave had installed a security camera in her house so she could check on her baby and the babysitter from her office. I found it icky and sick, but then how could I know, being blessed with a devoted, intelligent, single, apparently seksless, un-talkative, smart, non-interfering nanny whose father was a long-standing employee at my mother’s place of work? So I shut up and made cooing sympathetic noises at my colleague.
Then I read about “nanny cams”- apparently in the security-mad developed countries, this is considered a perfectly acceptable, normal course of action. Do you have to leave your baby with a stranger? Don’t worry- just install a nanny cam and you can keep an eye on them from your office, just to make sure the nanny isn’t slicing out your baby’s kidney, or forcing your baby to watch her have seks with the neighbour’s dog, or doping your baby to sleep while she watches day-time TV, or whatever else your paranoid diseased mind is think of.
However, I have knocked back enough books to know that my personal feelings of ickiness are not necessarily the best standards of behaviour for everybody else, and so I am struggling to come up with clear, objective and rational reasons why installing a nanny cam (and in other words, spying) is a counter-productive and morally dubious course of action. 1
There are two strands to my argument, one based on efficiency, and the other based on morality. Based on efficiency, I would argue that having a nanny cam is simply no guarantee that your nanny does not do one or any of the above. Security cameras, like electronic passwords or metal locks (or any other security device), are, as any Fagin can tell you, no serious deterrance to the professional criminal mentality bent on doing evil. They are just fancy and often expensive ways for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to buy some (false) peace of mind. Politicians bang on about security as a cheap way of buying popularity. For paranoid parents, nanny cams play a similar role. Look around you, look at all the terrible awful dreadful things that can happen at any second to your baby. Do you seriously think a nanny cam can deter any of that? The only thing it can achieve is to harm the sense of trust and goodwill which must exist between the nanny and the parent. If you mistrust your nanny to the extent that you feel you need to spy on her, how can you bear to leave your child with her in the first place? Can she perform no harm in the time it gets for you close the front door and drive to the office and switch on your monitor? And how can you perform your own job functions if one eye is constantly on the security camera?
Which leads me to the second strand. How would you like it if your boss spied on you at the workplace? Yes, just imagine, all those hours you are surfing, blogging, picking your nose, gossiping, texting, whatever, your boss could actually see you? And imagine how many more violations of privacy could take place when the workplace is a home, not an office. Yes, the safety of a baby is at stake, but is it really? Does the installation of a nanny cam guarantee a more safe place for the baby? I think not. (see above) And granted that it does not even do what it is supposed to (ie increase safety for baby), then it is morally dubious to trample on the personal dignity of the nanny, by spying on her (yes, they’re all women).
Oh, and BTW, my colleague actually lost her job, and became a stay-at-home mum. No judgement implied. The solution is not security cams, it is cheaper, more available, better childcare options, including in the workplace. It is so obvious.
1-For the purpose of this blog, we will leave aside the hard objective fact that there are no hard objective rational certainties in the postmodern world, and we will assume that Shakespeare really is the best dramatist, and that it is not just a conspiracy by Old White Males to boss around everyone.