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Video Surveillance in University Lecture Halls: A Right to Privacy?

View profile for Jacqueline Ross
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Case: Antović and Mirković v. Montenegro (application no. 70838/13)

On 28 November 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that video surveillance installed in University Auditoriums infringed professors’ Article 8 Privacy Rights.

The University of Montenegro made the decision to install surveillance cameras, with a view to protecting the safety of property, students and staff, and to monitor teaching. This decision gave rise to a complaint in respect of an invasion of privacy by two professors at the University of Montenegro’s School of Mathematics, Nevenka Antović and Jovan Mirković. They argued that they had no effective control over the information collected and that the surveillance had been unlawful.

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence), is a qualified right. In other words, this is not an absolute right to privacy and it is subject to restrictions which are “in accordance with the law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”

In this case, the ECtHR rejected the domestic court’s finding that there had been no violation of Article 8 as the surveillance cameras were limited to capturing public teaching areas. They noted that the term “private life” must be interpreted broadly, to include the right to lead a private social life.  It may also include professional activities taking place in a public context. This point was discussed in Bărbulescu v Romania [2017] (See Grant Shackleston’s Blog discussing this case.)

The ECtHR further discussed that in university lectures, professors teach and interact with students and therefore are able to construct a social identity. It is on that basis, the court held that lecture halls should be treated like any other workplace.

The Court found therefore that surveillance in university lecture halls amounts to a considerable interference with a professor’s (as employee of the University) right to respect for privacy.

With regard to data protection laws of Montenegro, the law provides that surveillance can be conducted in business premises, but only if it is a justifiable means of achieving a legitimate aim. As there was no substantial evidence that people or property had been at risk, the test was not met and it was not justifiable to monitor teaching under domestic legislation.

Courts and Tribunals in the UK have generally upheld an employer’s right to monitor employees as long as the monitoring is not particularly invasive.

For information about monitoring your staff, or perhaps if you are concerned that your employer has just installed a new video camera at your workplace, please contact our Employment Team for advice and assistance.

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