Surveillance cameras and privacy at work

15 January 2018

Does covert surveillance at work breach the European Court of Human Rights Article 8 right to privacy?

Yes, held the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Lopez Ribalda & Ors v Spain.

A supermarket installed surveillance cameras to address suspected theft. Workers were only told about the visible cameras, not others which had been placed covertly. Several employees were dismissed relying on covert images. They alleged breach of Article 8 and data protection rights.

A Spanish court held that the measure was justified, appropriate, necessary and proportionate. No other equally effective means of protecting the employer's rights would have interfered less.

The ECtHR disagreed: Article 8 had been violated. Video surveillance in the workplace is a considerable intrusion into private life; it extends to personal appearance. A fair balance between the parties' rights had not been struck.

To comply with data protection laws, employees must be "explicitly, precisely and unambiguously" informed of the existence of a personal data file, how data will be processed, the purpose for collection and the recipients of the data.

The case is distinguished from Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro and Kopke where no breach of Article 8 was found: that data was for a specific purpose, was confined, controlled and time-limited.


With thanks to Daniel Barnett’s employment law bulletin for providing a summary of this case.