Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states “everyone has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”. Article 8(2) says there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The case López Ribalda and others v Spain concerned installation of covert surveillance in a Spanish supermarket where there was a high level of theft. The surveillance was limited to ten days and the recordings were confined to a small group of individuals, those working at the check outs.
The ECHR decided employees should have a limited expectation of privacy at work on a supermarket floor and the employer had made efforts to limit the circulation of the recordings. This meant a fair balance had been struck and the intrusion deemed to be appropriate.
In deciding the measures in this case were necessary and proportionate, the court took into account the following factors:
• the employers had legitimate reasons for the video surveillance, namely the suspicion of theft, based on significant losses recorded over several months, and had a legitimate interest in discovering and punishing those responsible;
• The monitoring took place in an area that was open to the public and involved permanent contact with customers;
• The duration of surveillance was not excessive;
• Only the supermarket manager, the company’s legal representative and the union representative viewed the recordings before disciplinary action was taken;
• The recordings were not used by the employer for any purposes other than to investigate the thefts.
The Grand Chamber has held by a majority of 14 to 3 that there was no violation of Article 8 right to respect for private and family life.