Covert surveillance violated Article 8 privacy rights


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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held that a Spanish employer's decision to install hidden video cameras to monitor suspected theft by a number of supermarket cashiers violated the cashier's privacy rights under Article 8 of the European convention on Human Rights in Lopez Ribalda and others v Spain.

Several visible surveillance cameras had been installed by the employer, aimed at detecting theft by customers, and several concealed cameras which were aimed at recording theft by employees. Five employees were caught on video stealing items and helping co-workers and customers steal items. The employees admitted to the thefts and were dismissed. Their dismissals were upheld by the Spanish courts, but they contended that their Article 8 rights to privacy had been infringed.

The ECHR held that the Spanish courts had failed to strike a fair balance between the employees' right to respect for their private life and the employer's interest in protecting its property. The use of covert surveillance contravened specific provisions of Spanish data protection law and guidance issued by the Spanish data protection agency. The employer did not inform the employees that surveillance cameras had been installed focussing on the cash desks, or of their rights under the data protection legislation.

Take note: Guidance published in the UK by the Information Commissioner's Office makes it clear that it will be rare for covert monitoring of employees to be justified and that it should only be done in exceptional circumstances. Employers should ensure that video surveillance will only be carried out in exceptional circumstances where the employer reasonably believes that there is no less intrusive way of tackling the issue.

This article is taken form HR Law February 2018.

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