1. Introduction

In the age of digital transformation, businesses worldwide are increasingly integrating surveillance technologies into their operations.

Workplace surveillance, particularly through video monitoring, has become a common practice aimed at enhancing security, safeguarding assets, and ensuring productivity.

However, the implementation of video surveillance within companies raises significant legal and ethical considerations.

This article explores the legal framework governing workplace surveillance, particularly within the European Union (EU) and Italy, balancing employers’ interests with employees’ privacy rights.

Our goal is to equip businesses with the knowledge they need to navigate this complex area and implement video surveillance systems legally and effectively.

  1. Legal Framework in the European Union

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the primary legal instrument regulating the processing of personal data within the EU, including video surveillance data. According to the GDPR, video footage that captures identifiable individuals constitutes personal data, and thus, its collection, storage, and use must comply with data protection principles.

Key principles under the GDPR include:

  • Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency: businesses must have a legitimate reason for installing video surveillance, such as security or crime prevention. Employees and visitors must be informed about the presence of surveillance cameras through clear signage;
  • Purpose limitation: video surveillance data should be collected for specified, explicit, and legitimate purposes and not processed in a manner incompatible with those purposes;
  • Data minimization: the extent of surveillance should be limited to what is necessary. For instance, cameras should not cover areas where privacy is expected, like restrooms or break rooms;
  • Storage limitation: personal data should not be kept longer than necessary. Companies need to establish retention periods for video footage;
  • Security: appropriate measures must be taken to protect the data from unauthorized access, alteration, or destruction.
  1. Italian Legal Requirements

Italy adheres to the GDPR, but it also has specific national regulations concerning video surveillance in the workplace.

The primary legislative reference is the Workers’ Statute (Statuto dei Lavoratori) as amended by the Jobs Act in 2016. Article 4 of the Workers’ Statute, which governs the use of audiovisual equipment and other tools for the purpose of employees monitoring, outlines the conditions under which video surveillance is permissible.

Key provisions include:

  1. agreement with Trade Unions or authorization from the Labour Inspectorate: before installing a video surveillance system, companies must either reach an agreement with the relevant trade unions or obtain authorization from the Labour Inspectorate (Ispettorato Nazionale del Lavoro). This requirement aims to protect employees’ privacy and ensure transparency;
  2. information and transparency: employers must inform employees about the existence and purposes of video surveillance. This is typically done through clear signage and privacy notices;
  3. proportionality and necessity: similar to the GDPR, the use of surveillance must be proportionate to the intended purposes, and less intrusive measures should be considered first;
  4. data processing and storage: the processing and storage of video surveillance data must comply with the GDPR’s principles, ensuring the data is kept secure and not retained longer than necessary.
  5. Comparative Analysis: EU vs. Italian Regulations

While the GDPR provides a broad framework applicable across the EU, Italy’s additional requirements reflect a more stringent approach to protecting employees’ privacy in the workplace.

One notable difference is the mandatory involvement of trade unions or the Labour Inspectorate before the installation of surveillance systems. This added layer of oversight is designed to balance employers’ interests with employees’ rights to privacy.

For example, in Germany, another EU member state, the requirements are similar to Italy’s, necessitating works council agreements for workplace surveillance. In contrast, countries like France have more streamlined procedures, requiring only notification to the National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL).

  1. Technological and Ethical Considerations

The evolution of surveillance technology has introduced sophisticated systems such as facial recognition, biometric monitoring, and AI-driven analytics. While these technologies can enhance security and efficiency, they also pose heightened privacy risks.

For these reasons, employers must carefully evaluate both the necessity and proportionality of using advanced surveillance technologies as well as the potential for misuse or data breaches, whilst complying with data protection laws governing biometric data.

Beyond legal compliance, however, ethical considerations play a crucial role in workplace surveillance.

Employers should consider the broader impact on workplace culture and employees’ morale. Ethical guidelines suggest that, to provide a fair use of surveillance technologies, these shall be used solely for legitimate business purposes, avoiding intrusive monitoring practices and also ensuring it does not create a hostile work environment.

  1. Practical Considerations for Businesses

Implementing a video surveillance system requires careful planning and consideration of both EU and Italian regulations. Here are some practical steps businesses can take to ensure compliance:

  1. Conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA): This is particularly important for large-scale surveillance or when monitoring publicly accessible areas. A DPIA helps identify and mitigate privacy risks associated with video surveillance;
  2. Engage with Trade Unions or Labour Inspectorate: In Italy, initiating early discussions with trade unions or seeking guidance from the Labour Inspectorate can streamline the authorization process and avoid potential conflicts;
  3. Develop Clear Policies and Notices: Establish comprehensive policies outlining the purposes, scope, and procedures for video surveillance. Ensure that employees and visitors are well-informed through clear signage and privacy notices;
  4. Limit Surveillance Scope: Position cameras strategically to cover only the necessary areas. Avoid placing cameras in locations where individuals have a heightened expectation of privacy;
  5. Secure Data Storage and Access: Implement robust security measures to protect stored footage and restrict access to authorized personnel only. Regularly review and update these measures to address new security threats.
  6. Case study: surveillance in practice. Manufacturing and Workplace Safety

In the case of a manufacturing company facing challenges in ensuring workplace safety and compliance with regulations, it might be advised to implement a system of workplace video surveillance.

In such instance, the company shall decide to monitor only high-risk areas, in order to reduce accidents and improve safety protocols. In particular, the most important steps it would need to take to ensure employees’ safety as well as business protection include:

  • Clear communication with employees about the surveillance’s safety objectives;
  • Regular reviews of surveillance footage to identify and mitigate risks;
  • Ensuring surveillance did not extend to areas where employees had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A structured and thorough initiative would ideally result in a safer work environment and, with time, it would demonstrate the importance of transparency and proportionality in surveillance.

  1. Conclusion

Navigating the legal landscape of video surveillance in businesses requires a thorough understanding of both European and Italian regulations.

While the GDPR sets the foundation for data protection across the EU, Italy’s specific requirements, particularly regarding workplace surveillance, necessitate additional compliance steps.

By following best practices and adhering to the principles of transparency, necessity, and proportionality, companies can effectively implement video surveillance systems that enhance security while respecting the privacy rights of individuals. For businesses seeking legal guidance on this matter, consulting with legal experts familiar with both EU and Italian laws is essential to ensure full compliance and avoid potential legal pitfalls.