Germany wants a new law to protect employees' privacy

By EDRi · September 8, 2010

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Deutsch: [Deutschland plant neues Gesetz zum Beschäftigtendatenschutz |]

Following several scandals during the last years related to the surveillance
of employees in several companies, the German government has recently tabled
a draft bill that would forbid employers to use hidden cameras or social
networking websites to spy on employees.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the new law would be beneficial
for both parties. “It’s a balanced compromise among the various interests
and will foster more trust in the workplace between employer and employees”.

As many retailers in Germany have been using hidden cameras to catch
employees believed to steal, one of the proposed measures is that employers
can no longer use video surveillance on workers without their knowledge.
They will be allowed to use video cameras in public areas such as around the
cash register or the entrance to a supermarket to prevent shop-lifting but
video surveillance will be forbidden in private areas such as changing
rooms, break rooms and bathrooms.

The bill also regulates phone, email and Internet surveillance at the
workplace. The bill will forbid employers to gather private information of
candidate employees from networks such as Facebook and MySpace, but they
will still be able to get information by means of publicly accessible
sources on search engines and professional social networks, such as

An employer getting friends with a prospective employee or hacking his (her)
Facebook account to get personal information will be punished with a fine of
up to 300 000 euro, acts which will be however difficult to prove.

The bill is to be debated and approved by the German Parliament this Autumn
and if passed, Germany will become the first country to place restrictions
on the use of personal information found on social networking sites such as

France has also played with the idea of “the right to oblivion” but without
a final result. In UK, the law is not restrictive regarding searching of
personal data on the Internet for employers. “I know a lot of employers will
put an applicant’s name into Google to see what comes up, and nothing in UK
law prevents that. In terms of how employers use the information they find,
they have to be conscious of a person’s rights, particularly under the Data
Protection Act,” said Kirsty Ayre, a partner in Pinsent Masons law firm.

An Employment Practices Code published by the UK Information Commissioner’s
Office says that during a recruitment process, employers have to: “Explain
the nature of and sources from which information might be obtained about the
applicant in addition to the information supplied directly by the applicant”
and to “Ensure there is a clear statement on the application form or
surrounding documents, explaining what information will be sought and from

According to Ayre, employers should avoid using information obtained from
online sources in ways that might be discriminatory as an Internet search
may reveal characteristics that are protected by anti-discrimination laws
across the UK, such as a person’s age, religion or sexual preferences.

Germany weighs bill to outlaw spying on employees (25.08.2010),,5942077,00.html

Germany to ban employers from snooping on Facebook (27.08.2010)

German law bans Facebook research for hiring decisions (26.08.2010)

The German Law (only in German, 24.08.2010)