Secret video surveillance in the workplace is a sensitive issue. It is a substantial infringement of the personality rights of the monitored employees. For this very reason, it is only permitted for a short period of time and for good cause. Such a cause may be, for example, the investigation of criminal offences.
It appears that the electronics retailer Notebooksbilliger.de (NBB) may not have complied with these strict requirements. The State Officer for Data Protection in Lower Saxony, Barbara Thiel, has concluded that the company, based near Hanover, has been monitoring its employees without legal reason. Among other things, the video cameras had recorded workplaces, retail spaces, warehouses and lounge areas. These recordings were not only made for a brief period, but for at least two years. To some extent, customers can also be seen in the waiting areas on the recordings.
Video Surveillance Only Upon Reasonable Suspicion
These video recordings represent a serious breach of data privacy for the Data Protection Officer. As a result, she imposed a fine of 10.4 million Euros.
Thiel did not follow the company’s reasoning that the video recordings were intended to prevent and solve crimes and to track the flow of goods in the warehouses. This explanation was too general for the data protection officer.
On the one hand, milder methods, for example random inspections of bags, would first have to be examined in order to prevent thefts. On the other hand, a temporary video surveillance could only be substantiated if there were reasonable grounds for suspicion against specific persons. This was not the case here. The video surveillance was neither limited to certain persons, nor was it limited to a short period of time. Furthermore, some of the recordings were older than 60 days, and therefore they had been stored for much longer than necessary.
Violation of Personality Rights
For the data protection officer of Lower Saxony, this is a very serious case of video surveillance and violation of the employees’ personal rights. This can also not be justified by an alleged deterrent effect of video surveillance either. Video surveillance constitutes an especially serious infringement of personality rights, as it can theoretically be used to watch and analyze the overall behavior of employees.
Heavy Fines for GDPR Violations
Due to GDPR violations, the regulatory authorities can levy fines of up to 20 million Euros or up to four percent of a company’s entire global annual turnover. NBB has already announced that it plans to take action against the fine notice. They claim the amount was disproportionate to the company’s size and financial strength as well as to the severity of the violation. Meanwhile, the company has set up its video surveillance lawfully.