€10.4m GDPR Fine for German Laptop Retailer Guilty of Video-Monitoring Staff

In Germany the data regulation authority in the Lower Saxony region has sanctioned a financial penalty of €10.4m against a a local laptop retailer due to the breach of the European Union’s general Data Protection Regulation as a result of conducting constant video surveillance of staff members, without a legal basis for doing so., over the past two years.

Notebook retailer notebooksbilliger.de AG (NBB) was discovered to have been carrying out intrusive video surveillance against its staff, without a legal basis, using unauthorized cameras in areas including workplaces, sales rooms, warehouses and other common areas for staff activity. The illegal video footage was, typically, retained for a period of at least 60 days, which was also found to be much longer than was required to serve any purpose in the ruling released by state commissioner for data protection in Lower Saxony, Barbara Thiel.

Notebooksbilliger.de AG, operating as NBB, is an Internet-based marketplace with a physical retail chain that supplied laptops and other IT supplies. This is the second GDPR penalty that the Lower Saxony data regulator has sanctioned such a heavy fine for activity related to unauthorized monitoring of staff. In October 2020 a fine of €35.3m was imposed on fashion company H&M for recording video footage of staff without a legal basis or authorization for doing so.

The ruling revealed that the recording equipment had been put in place around two years with the aim of stopping preventing internal theft and reviewing the movement of product.

In the official ruling, which you can read here, Thiel said: “We are dealing with a serious case of video surveillance in the company”, says the LfD Lower Saxony, Barbara Thiel, “Companies must understand that with such intensive video surveillance they are massively violating the rights of their employees. If that were the case, companies could extend surveillance limitlessly. The employees do not have to give up their personal rights just because their employer puts them under general suspicion. Video surveillance is a particularly intensive encroachment on personal rights, because theoretically the entire behavior of a person can be observed and analyzed. According to the case law of the Federal Labor Court, this can mean that those affected feel the pressure to behave as inconspicuously as possible in order not to be criticized or sanctioned for deviating behavior.”

Reacting to the GDPR penalty NBB CEO Oliver Hellmold referred to it as unfounded, commenting “at no point was the video system designed to monitor employee behavior or performance. It wasn’t even technically equipped for it.”

He added: “It is absurd that an authority imposes a fine of more than €10m without sufficiently investigating the matter. Apparently, an example is to be made here at the expense of our company.”