The installation and use of surveillance cameras can mean a point of conflict between the right of employers to monitor what happens in the workplace and the right to private life and the intimacy of employees. Therefore, it is essential to know the limits and scope of this practice.
Article 24 of the Political Constitution of Costa Rica guarantees the right to privacy, which has been developed over the years by the Constitutional Chamber. In this regard, said body has indicated:
The right to privacy has a positive content that manifests itself in many ways, such as the right to image, home, and correspondence. For the Chamber, the right to private life can be defined as the sphere in which no one can interfere. The freedom of private life is the recognition of an area of activity that is specific to each one, and the right to privacy limits the intervention of other people or public authorities in the private life of the person (Resolution 2006-10536 of 3:57 p.m. on July 25, 2006).
Since the right to image and privacy of employees is at stake, the use of surveillance cameras in workplaces has also been analyzed by the Constitutional Chamber, indicating that it is a power of the employer to control the functions performed there:
Now, in the specific case described by the appellants, this Chamber does not observe that said protection jurisdiction is infringed, because as the plaintiffs clearly indicate, said camera covers the cubicle in which they carry out their surveillance functions, that is, an area public and visible, intended exclusively for the exercise of their duties, and therefore, the indicated camera is suitable for capturing behaviors typical of the performance of their positions, and not behaviors that can be considered as belonging to their private life, and whose perception can imply any disturbance to their decorum, to the point of being able to demand privacy concerning them. Therefore, the appeal must be dismissed (Resolution 2000-4177 of the Constitutional Chamber of 4:40 p.m. on May 16, 2000).
Although the Constitutional Chamber has recognized the authority of employers to place and use surveillance cameras in workplaces, the transcribed ruling shows that said authority has certain limits. In this sense, it has been determined that said cameras must be directed to public places and destined for the exercise of tasks. The objectivity of installing surveillance cameras lies in the control of the fulfillment of the functions entrusted to the personnel.
On the contrary, the placement of this equipment in restrooms, showers, dressing rooms, dining rooms, or staff rest areas is considered a violation of the right to privacy. The preceding is because in said spaces, behaviors unrelated to the functions of the worker are carried out, which are considered as belonging to the private life of the staff.
To develop this idea, through a 2016 ruling, the Constitutional Chamber specifically established that the placement of surveillance cameras in places where workers rest constitutes a violation of the right to privacy.
In this regard, it is important to point out that employees have the right to have their private life respected, so the cameras should not be directed directly at the worker but, as far as possible, oriented on a panoramic plane, as stated in this case, that the shot made to the office is general and indirect to the officials. Another point that the appealed authority must take into account is that the cameras must be installed at the level of the entrances and exits of the offices, corridors, emergency exits, and parking lots. It is clarified that there may be cases in which it is objectively necessary that the angle of the camera shot be directed, due to technical requirements or requirements of the production processes or for safety reasons, to the position of a worker or third parties, for example, a bank teller. However, installing cameras in work centers to monitor their work or protect employer assets should not cover places, even when located within a public dependency, that is intended for workers' dining rooms because its placement must be justified for security reasons. The preceding would mean a direct control or permanent surveillance of the worker, by means of the leadership, during their period of food intake, the recording of which would be incompatible with human dignity. In this context, the fundamental right to privacy of the appellants has been violated by the defendant since the shots made by the camera in the dining room of said dependency consist of arbitrary interference in said area. Note that the interference in the privacy of the person occurs with the simple fact of entering the field that he has reserved, since a worker cannot be permanently subject to observation or interference by his peers and, in principle, has the right to claim respect for spaces excluded from public scrutinies, such as areas intended for food, where it can develop in full freedom. In this same context, although there is a camera that covers the entrance to the health services, this does not harm the right to privacy, since precisely a public space is being filmed and the angle of the shot does not cover the interior of the enclosure, a place where individuals carry out very intimate activities so that their observation would entail an unacceptable interference in the area of their intimacy. However, it is recalled that the right to privacy is not absolute and "may be subject to limitations" or interference "in keeping with a true general interest that responds to the assumptions established by article 24 of the Political Constitution (The highlighting does not appear in the original. Resolution 2016-12654 of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of 11:43 on September 2, 2016).
In short, the installation of surveillance cameras is a faculty of the employer, but the worker's right to privacy must be respected. Therefore, placing them in restrooms, showers, dressing rooms, canteens, or staff rest areas is not possible.
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