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Changing room spy cam sparks privacy tsar blast

Hong Kong biz barons told snooping on staff is bad, mmkay

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Hong Kong privacy tsar Allan Chiang has been forced to clarify to bosses that it’s not OK to spy on their employees, after property company Hong Yip was found to have installed spy cameras in one of its buildings to monitor staff.

In a lengthy investigation report, the privacy commissioner revealed that two security guards in a building managed by Hong Yip had been fired for “unauthorised absences from duty” after a hidden camera caught them “lingering” in the staff changing room when they should have been doing official security guard stuff.

The two then took the case to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) after they found the obviously not very well-hidden camera.

Although Hong Yip maintains the spy cam was installed for security purposes – specifically to investigate complaints of trespassers distributing “promotional materials" in the car park – the commissioner found against the firm.

Here’s what Hong Kong privacy tsar Chiang had to say:

Covert monitoring by employers is generally regarded as highly privacy intrusive. Hence, covert monitoring should only be used when employers have no other alternative and if it is absolutely necessary to do so, eg, (a) there is a reasonable suspicion that an unlawful activity is about to be committed, is being committed or has been committed; (b) the need to resort to covert monitoring to detect or to collect evidence of that unlawful activity is absolutely necessary given the circumstances; and (c) the use of overt monitoring would likely prejudice the detection or the successful gathering of evidence of that unlawful activity.

He added that all employers should have a privacy policy on employee monitoring and that the policy should be clearly communicated.

In this instance Hong Yip escaped punishment as it had already dismantled the spy cam, although it is unclear what form of redress the two members of staff received. Presumably they’re not looking for their old jobs back.

An interesting footnote to the story, as reported by local paper The Standard, is that privacy chief Chiang was actually in charge of Hongkong Post in 2005 when six spy cameras were found at one of its branches. Chiang's statement regarding that breach is here. ®

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