The data regulator of the German state of Lower Saxony has fined a local laptop retailer € 10,4 million for continuously monitoring its employees for the past two years without any legal basis.
The penalty represents one of the largest fines imposed under the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) not only in Germany but throughout Europe.
Notebooksbilliger.de AG (operating as NBB), is an online e-commerce portal and retail chain for the sale of laptops and other IT products.
The Data Protection Commissioner (LfD) for the state of Lower Saxony said that the company installed a video surveillance system in warehouses, sales rooms and public worksplaces two years ago to prevent, investigate theft and monitor of the movements of its products.
Company executives stated that the video surveillance system was active at all times and that the recordings were stored for up to 60 days in the company's database.
The company believed it had a video surveillance solution, as did many other companies across Germany and around the world, but the German regulator considered it a huge violation of German workers' rights.
"We are facing a serious case of video surveillance at the company," said Barbara Thiel, head of LfD Lower Saxony. in a press release.
"Companies need to understand that with such intensive video surveillance they are massively violating the rights of their employees."
The German regulator has argued that employees do not need to give up their right to privacy because their employer has suspicions of a possible criminal act in the future.
"If that happened then companies could expand their surveillance indefinitely," said Thiel.
The German woman argued that video surveillance should not be used as a "deterrent" to prevent a crime, but only when an employer has reasonable suspicions about some of its employees. In these cases, employees could be monitored for limited periods of time until the suspicion is confirmed and not for years.
"Video surveillance is a very intense violation of personal rights, because, in theory, the entire behavior of an individual can be observed and analyzed," said Thiel.
The head of LfD stated that, due to the constant monitoring, the employees are under constant pressure and that they should behave as normally as possible, in order to avoid criticism for their behavior.
However, in a statement (PDF) posted on its website, NBB CEO Oliver Hellmold stated that the fine and the accusation that he watched the employees are unfounded.
"At no point was the video system designed to monitor employee behavior or performance. "It was not even technically equipped for that," said Hellmold.
The CEO of NBB has accused the LfD office in Lower Saxony of various offenses. He claimed that the officials did not visit the company's premises during the three-year investigation and that NBB made adjustments to the video surveillance system at the request of the office.
In addition, Hellmold described the fine as disproportionate to the size of the company and said it intended to appeal.