Surveillance cameras and privacy at work

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 provides that all individuals have the right to respect for private and family life. Therefore, would video surveillance of lecture theatres violate a university professor’s right to privacy?

This issue was recently highlighted in the case of Antovic & Mirkovic v Montenegro, in which the Dean of the School of Mathematics installed video cameras into the public lecture hall at a Montenegro university, suggesting it was to “protect safety of property, people and students.” However, this surveillance also recorded lectures.

The recorded data was protected by codes that only the Dean had access to. Following this complaint, the Personal Data Protection Agency ordered the removal of this surveillance on the grounds that there was no evidence to say safety was an issue and therefore, there was no legitimate reason for data collection. The Domestic court held that Article 8 had not been violated in the first instance.

However, by four votes to three, the European Court held that Article 8 had been breached, arguing that although the university is a public sphere, private life encompasses business and professional activities.

Monitoring employees at work

There are a number of reasons that employers may wish to monitor their employees at work. The Data Protection Act does not restrict employers to do this, however, it is important that employers remember that employees are entitled to some degree of privacy in the workplace.

Should an employer wish to monitor his employees, they should be informed prior and told about any monitoring arrangements and the reason behind it.

Key aspects to monitoring employees

  • Employers should have written policies and procedures in the workplace regarding monitoring at work
  • Monitoring should be justified
  • Employees should be informed of what is under surveillance and how long the data will be stored for
  • The Data Protection Act will apply if employers monitor workers by collecting or using information
  • Information gathered through monitoring should be stored in a secure environment

Common methods used for monitoring

  • CCTV
  • Looking at the use of email or website visits
  • Listening in to phone calls
  • Bag searches
  • Email and web monitoring

 CCTV surveillance

Should an employer wish to install CCTV to monitor employees, all staff should be made aware of this. For example, there should be signs on display stating where the cameras are placed. In addition, employees should be informed why they are now being monitored.

Signs should be:

  • Clear, readable and visible
  • Include contact details, such as, website address and point of contact should anyone have any questions about the scheme
  • Contain details of the purpose of the surveillance, E.G. to prevent theft

The Data Protection Act states that if an employer provides a specific reason for the surveillance, for example to stop theft, then the employer cannot use the footage for any other reason.

Bag searches

If an employer wishes to conduct bag searches, there must be a policy in place alerting employees that bags and purses will be subject to searches. Again, there should be a legitimate reason to justify these searches.

Covert monitoring

Covert monitoring is defined as “monitoring that is deliberately carried out in secret, without the knowledge of the staff being monitored.” This form of monitoring can be extremely difficult for an employer to justify. This form of investigation should be conducted as quickly as possible and only carried out as part of a specific investigation. When the investigation ends, so should the monitoring.

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