The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that video surveillance of lecture halls at the University of Montenegro infringed professors’ right to privacy under Article 8 (right to respect for one’s “private and family life”) of the European Convention of Human rights.
In the case of Antović and Mirković v Montenegro, judges held that the privacy rights of two professors had indeed been violated by the university’s decision to equip auditoriums with surveillance cameras in order to monitor teaching and protect the safety of people and property.
In a previous ruling, a domestic court had found there was no violation of the professors’ privacy rights because the cameras were installed in public teaching areas. However, the EHCR rejected this, noting that it had previously ruled that “private life” required a broad interpretation. While it includes the right to a private social life, it may also include professional activities conducted in a public context. (See also the recent ruling on monitoring personal correspondence sent via work messaging systems.)
The ECHR noted that the lecturers not only taught in the auditoriums, they interacted with their students, thus were constructing a social identity. This meant the lecture halls must be treated in the same way as any other workplace. The Court found no reason to depart from earlier findings that surveillance in the workplace does interfere with employees’ right to privacy.
Under Montenegrin law, surveillance is allowed in workplaces, but only with legitimate, permissible aims (of which monitoring teaching is not one) that cannot be achieved via any other means. In addition, in this particular case, there was no evidence that the safety of people or property was at risk.
The implication for employers is clear: employees’ right to privacy is critical, and extends beyond their social and home life to include certain professional activities.