Case law
15 March 2018

Cameras or privacy?

The monitoring of premises by CCTV cameras is common enough nowadays. Usually, the reason for installing them is the protection of property against theft or vandalism. Yet, as the European Court of Human Rights emphasised in its recent judgment, we have the right to privacy even in publicly accessible areas; video surveillance must not disproportionately interfere with this right.

Viktor Dušek
Ladislav Karas

The recent case concerned installation of a CCTV system in the auditorium of a university in Montenegro. Its purpose was not just to protect persons and property, but also to monitor the quality of teaching. Two of the lecturing professors complained about this, and the Montenegrin office for personal data protection agreed with them that the video surveillance was unlawful. However, when the professors wanted to claim damages for non-proprietary (non-pecuniary) loss, national courts denied their claim, and the case thus appeared before the European Court for Human Rights.

The ECHR confirmed that the right to privacy also applies to public areas (such as the auditorium) and to performing a professional activity (teaching). Any intrusion into privacy must be justified by a legitimate goal, necessary and proportional. In the case in question, these conditions were not met. The monitoring of the quality of teaching was not a legitimate goal for installing the surveillance under the Montenegrin law; the protection of persons and property was not found a sufficient reason either, as it had not been proved that these values were in any danger in the auditorium. The court thus ruled that the monitoring was contrary to Montenegrin personal data protection laws and awarded damage compensation to the professors. According to the judgement, everything would have been OK had the cameras been placed at the entrance to the building, not in the auditorium.

The issue of CCTV surveillance, i.e., what is still considered acceptable, is a hot topic in the Czech Republic as well. In our legal context, the methodology on operating CCTV systems published by the Office for Personal Data Protection may offer useful guidance. Yet, the interpretations of laws develop constantly. Soon, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will enter into effect and introduce higher sanctions for all operators of camera systems recording data. We thus recommend paying proper attention to setting and operating camera systems appropriately.

Share article