Video Surveillance at Work

Thursday 21st December 2017

In the recent case of Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) considered whether two Mathematics professors at the University of Montenegro were subject to an unlawful invasion of privacy, after video surveillance had been installed in the lecture theatre where they taught.

The professors claimed their right to a private life under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) had been contravened due to the fact that they had no control over, and gave no authority to, the video data being collected.  The data itself was protected by codes known only to the Dean of the School of Mathematics.  The domestic courts held that because the University is a public institution the right to a private life under the ECHR did not apply.  The professors appealed to the ECtHR.

The ECtHR first confirmed that the professors’ right to a private life had been infringed because the notion of a ‘private life’ includes activities taking place in a public context.  The Court then considered whether the infringement could be justified on the basis that it was in pursuance of a legitimate aim.  The University’s rationale for installing video surveillance, that it was to “ensure the safety of property, people and students, and the surveillance of teaching”, was found by the Court to be illegitimate because there was no evidence that safety was in issue and monitoring teaching was not a legitimate ground for surveillance.  As a result, the Court allowed the Professors’ appeal.

Comment:          Although this case does not make surveillance of staff unlawful in itself, it shows that employers must be able to objectively justify their reasons for installing surveillance and show that such installation is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  The Information Commissioner’s guidance on surveillance cameras and data protection can be found here.