Labour Research December 2019

Law Matters

Covert surveillance didn’t violate human rights

Secret surveillance of employees in a Spanish supermarket who were suspected of theft was not a breach of their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of López Ribalda and others v Spain Case Nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13. 

In 2009, the supermarket installed CCTV as part of an investigation into discrepancies between stock levels and sales. Visible cameras pointed towards the entrances and exits of the supermarket and hidden cameras were directed at the checkouts. Staff were not informed about the hidden cameras. 

The footage revealed staff helping customers to steal goods at the checkouts and stealing goods themselves. Fourteen employees were dismissed as a result. 

They challenged the lawfulness of the video surveillance, first in the Spanish courts where their claims were rejected and then in the ECHR. 

The Court noted that the expectation of privacy in a supermarket, because it is accessible to the general public, is lower than in other workplaces, such as a closed office. 

The surveillance was limited to 10 days and the recordings were viewed only by the manager, the supermarket’s legal representative and the employees’ union rep. 

Based on these factors, the Court said the surveillance was proportionate and did not breach the employees’ Article 8 rights.