Outrage broke after a documentary, which was a part of the TV series called “How Stuff Works”, was published showing the complete process that the so called “automatic” AutoFlush systems, fitted to thousands of grimy porcelain urinals nationwide, use to determine when to flush.
The documentary claims that the so called “automatic” sensors, located slightly above the urinal, are actually cameras which are similar to webcams and are used to send a live feed to a video screen and, in some cases, is stored with the security camera footage. An individual, usually the gas station manager or employee, will use the live video feed to determine when to flush the urinal which he can do so via the control center. The erroneous flushes that occur can largely be accounted for by human error.
This has raised serious privacy concerns among a growing culture of electronic surveillance.
Dale Baxter is the CEO of AutoFlush, Inc. located in Leola, Pennsylvania. He claims no foul. “If you take note of the location of the cameras you’ll see that they are high enough that they don’t let the flush operator see anything too personal,” Baxter reassured the public.
Critics have pointed out that toilets also feature the systems and those cameras are a lot lower. Baxter, however, says that the only other alternative is to flush the toilet manually which would require people to physically touch the nasty toilet handles. “Nobody wants to do that,” he says, thus justifying the slight intrusion into the public’s privacy.
Abeeb Nytashi is a manager of a Shell gas station in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania. He claims the flush system is critical to his business. “I use the, uh.., the cameras to make sure customers don’t, uh, do the toilet, er, urinal without buying product from my shelves.” He claims that “It’s very good to my business to not let people take granted the restrooms.” Plus, he likes the fact that identify people who misuse the restrooms to smoke marijuana and turn them in to the local constable.
National boycotts have been initiated but organizers complain saying that people aren’t being disciplined with their choice of restroom.
Gary Peterson is a frequent bathroom user who was initially a strong proponent of the boycott but blames his often overwhelming urge to urinate on his lax discipline. “Does it bother me that someone is watching me whistle while I pee? You bet! But, seriously, when you gotta go, you gotta go.”
Local municipalities around the country are reminding citizens who refuse to use gas station bathrooms that it’s illegal to urinate in public, even if it’s behind a small bush or in a trash dumpster.