13 December 2017

CCTV in EU teaching spaces

In Antovic and Mirkovic v Montenegro [2017] ECHR 1068 the European Court of Human Rights has held that CCTV in a public lecture theatre at the University of Montenegro breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. CCTV networks are a feature of teaching spaces in many Australian universities.

Article 8 of the Convention protects the right to respect for private and family life. The Dean of the School of Mathematics installed video surveillance in a public lecture theatre at the university to "protect safety of property, people and students". It also recorded lectures. The data was protected by codes known only to the Dean and kept for one year. A decision articulated by the Dean specified that the introduction of CCTV was intended to ensure the safety of property and people, including students, and the surveillance of teaching.

In March 2011 academics Ms Nevenka Antović and Mr Jovan Mirkovic complained to the state Personal Data Protection Agency about the video surveillance and the collection of data on them without consent. They relied on Montenegro's Personal Data Protection Act. In particular, they argued that the amphitheatre where they taught was locked both before and after the classes, that the only property there was fixed desks and chairs and a blackboard, that they knew of no reason to fear for anybody’s safety and that, in any event, there were other methods for protecting people and property and monitoring classes. They requested that the cameras be removed and the data erased.

Antović and Mirkovic  challenged the assessment. The Montenegrin Personal Data Protection Agency ordered the removal of the cameras. There was no evidence safety was an issue and therefore no legitimate grounds for data collection. The Agency ordered the School of Mathematics to remove the cameras from the auditoriums within fifteen days, as the video surveillance was not in accordance with the Personal Data Protection Act. In particular, the reasons for the introduction of video surveillance provided for by s 36 of that Act had not been met, given that there was no evidence that there was any danger to the safety of people and property in the auditoriums, still less to confidential data, and that the surveillance of teaching was not among the legitimate grounds for video surveillance. In January 2012 the cameras were removed.

Ms Antovic and Mr Mirkovic brought compensation claims against the University of Montenegro, the Personal Data Protection Agency and the State of Montenegro, for a violation of their right to a private life, notably by the unauthorised collection and processing of data on them.
They submitted in particular that such an interference with their private lives, without any possibility to control that process, was not provided for by any piece of legislation and that therefore it had not been in accordance with the law, within the meaning of Article 8 § 2 of the Convention. They also maintained that it had not pursued any legitimate aim and had not been necessary in a democratic society. They relied on the relevant provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act, Article 8 of the Convention and the relevant case-law of the Court.
Domestic courts held that Article 8 had not been violated. The Court of First Instance for example found that the notion of private life certainly included activities in the business and professional spheres. However, the university was a public institution performing activities of public interest (inc teaching), and that it was thus not possible for video surveillance of the auditoriums as public places to violate the applicants’ right to respect for their private life. The lecture space was a working area, akin to  a courtroom or parliament, where professors were never alone, and therefore they could not invoke any right to privacy that could be violated. The data that had been collected could thereby also not be considered as personal data.

The Court further held that monitoring of actions taking place in public (in accord with the Court’s case-law) >was not an interference with a person’s private life when those means just recorded what others could see if they happened to be in the same place at the same time. The monitoring of the actions of an individual in a public place by the use of photographic equipment which just instantaneously recorded visual data did not give rise to an interference with that individual’s private life, which could arise once any footage of such material became publicly available. The Court  concluded that the installation and use of video surveillance and the collection of data thereby had not violated the applicants’ right to privacy and had therefore not caused them any mental anguish.

On appeal the European Court (by four votes to three) ruled that although the University is a public sphere, private life encompasses business and professional activities. Article 8 had been breached.

The compensation awarded was, from an Australian perspective, symbolic.

Antović and Mirkovic were awarded one thousand euros each in respect of non-pecuniary damage. They were awarded 1,669.50 euros jointly in respect of costs and expenses.