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Recording conversations between staff and customers led to hefty fines

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​published on 27 January 2022 | reading time approx. 3 minutes

Fuel retailer Olerex was ordered to cease monitoring conversations at its filling stations via security footage which contains audio, following a Data Protection Inspectorate (AKI) precept.

The Data Protection Inspectorate launched an investigation into the legality of the use of audio and video recordings following reports that the customers of selected petrol stations were not informed about the recording of the conversation. The GDPR requires that the individual is informed about the fact of being recorded.

In November, AKI issued an injunction to Olerex requiring removal of the audiovisual surveillance equipment from the company's service stations and also the notification of its employees of the infringement related to the use of audiovisual surveillance equipment. In addition, Olerex was required to bring the video surveillance in compliance with the data protection requirements.

Olerex was warned with a penalty payment of €25,000 if the injunctions are not implemented within the deadline. €20,000 for failing to stop recording audio at its service stations following a warning and an additional €5,000 was added for failing to inform its employees that it was recording audio and for having received such a warning.

Allegedly, Olerex did not limit itself to recording audio at its petrol stations, but, according to information obtained by AKI, the company also used cameras at its stations to monitor and evaluate its employees. According to Piret Miller, CEO of Olerex, the company uses cameras for security reasons only. She added that it´s a necessary standard measure to protect employees in case of disagreements and is used by most service businesses.

AKI has commented that the use of audio recordings in the workplace, for example to monitor employees' job duties, is not allowed. The inspectorate also does not consider audio recording to be permissible, for example, in shops, cafés, customer service points of service companies. However, the practice of using the audiovisual tape in many such places is already relatively widespread in Estonia. AKI wants to draw the attention of businesses to the fact that this is detrimental to the rights of both employees and customers and is not in accordance with the law. These companies must review their data processing activities and stop audio recording.

Ability to monitor employees' conversations throughout their working hours is a very intrusive measure. In case of audio-recording, the employee is not free to have work or private conversations throughout the working day without being recorded by the employer. This in turn can lead to stress, anxiety and other mental problems for employees.

When audio recording is used at cash desks or service points, it can also affect conversations between customers. There may be many parties at the checkout in shops or petrol stations, and their conversation may often be more than just a business conversation. The recording of such conversations is excessive, especially in a situation where there is a lack of transparency as to the purposes for which the recording is being used.

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