Video surveillance at work breached employee privacy
The European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) has ruled that video surveillance of lecture halls where professors worked violated their right to privacy, continuing a trend in case law that video surveillance is an intrusion into an employee’s private life. Experts in the UK believe this will add further pressure on employers to rethink if and how they use workplace surveillance and monitoring tools.
In Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro the applicants, who worked at the University of Montenegro were told that they would be subject to video surveillance in the areas where classes were held, near the dean’s office. This was “to ensure the safety of property and people, including students, and for the purposes of teaching surveillance”. The university said access to the data collected was protected by codes known only to the dean, and would be stored for a year. The applicants used Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to argue that this was an unlawful installation and use of video surveillance equipment violated their right to respect for their private life.
The applicants first complained to the Personal Data Protection Agency that the video surveillance and collection of data without their consent breached the Personal Data Protection Act. The agency ordered the removal of the cameras, finding no evidence that safety was an issue and therefore no legitimate grounds to collect the data. There were other methods for protecting people and property and monitoring classes. The applicants requested the cameras be removed and the data erased, and brought compensation claims. However the Montenegrin courts held that Article 8 had not been violated.
On appeal the EHCR ruled by four votes to three that while the university is a public sphere, private life nonetheless encompasses business and professional activities. It said that it is “too restrictive to limit the notion of ‘private life’ to an ‘inner circle’ in which the individual may live his own personal life as he chooses.” It found that the University’s camera surveillance amounted to an interference with their right to privacy and, on the evidence, the surveillance had breached domestic law.