Privacy at work and surveillance cameras - Lopez Ribalda & Ors v Spain

Nathalie Stewart,  26th June, 2018

The background

A supermarket installed cameras to address suspected theft. Workers were only told about the visible cameras. They were not told about the covert cameras. As a result of the covert recordings, five employees where caught stealing, or aiding other employees and/or customers to steal. Several employees were subsequently dismissed and in doing so the employer relied upon the covert images. A Spanish court initially held the measure was justified, appropriate, necessary and proportionate. No other equally effective means of protecting the employer’s rights would have interfered less.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) however disagreed stating covert surveillance at work breaches Article 8 Right to Privacy. The ECtHR held that cameras in the workplace are considerably intrusive and a fair balance between the parties’ rights had not been struck.


What this means for you

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. This includes data obtained by cameras.

This can be contrasted with another case in 2007 Kopke v Germany, whereby the facts where almost identical, however, the covert recording was targeted to only two specific employees who were suspected of theft as oppose to all employees in this case and secondly the recordings were limited to two weeks in Kopke as opposed to a number of weeks with no limited time duration.

It shows that employers must ensure they follow the data protection regulations and ensure that if they do covertly record employees that it does not go beyond what is necessary and is the least intrusive method in sourcing the information required by the employer.


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