It is a general requirement of the Data Protection Act that where monitoring results in the collection, storage, use or other processing of personal data, staff should be made aware in advance that monitoring may be taking place and why it is being carried out.
Where monitoring involves video or audio surveillance, staff should be given specific information such as the location of cameras or microphones. Where communications, such as emails or telephone conversations are monitored, staff should know when to expect that information about them will be collected, why the information is being collected, who will be able to view the information and how the information may be used.
The Information Commissioner's Code of Practice on monitoring suggests that employers make this information available in staff handbooks, intranets, or other places where staff usually find out about personnel policy, and that staff are updated if significant changes are introduced. Part 3 of the Code deals with monitoring and surveillance.
The only exception to the principle of notifying staff is the very limited case where covert monitoring is necessary in order to properly investigate a genuine suspicion of criminal activity.
The Data Protection Act also gives you important rights to ask your employer what personal information your employer is holding about you, how that information was obtained, how that information is or will be used, and who is likely to have access to the information. This is known as your right to make a ‘Data Subject Access Request’. If your employer refuses to give you this information, you can complain to the Information Commissioner. If you are a union member, speak to your union first. They may be able to help you resolve matters without the need for a formal complaint.
Section 5 of the Information Commissioner's Quick Guide to the Employment Practices Code (PDF, 168KB) also deals with monitoring.
In 2015, the ICO updated its data protection Code of Practice on surveillance cameras and personal information (PDF). As well as surveillance cameras, the revised Code covers Automatic Number Plate Recognition, body-worn cameras, "unmanned" aerial systems (drones) and any other system that captures information relating to identifiable individuals, such as iris or face recognition technology. It applies to employers in the public and private sectors across the UK.
Monitoring can sometimes be helpful. For example, if you are accused of an incident of misconduct, the CCTV or other recording evidence may be able to help establish exactly what happened. This footage is evidence, just like any other evidence in a disciplinary investigation, to which you should be given proper access, so that you can tell your side of the story. You or your rep should make an early request to view the CCTV footage together in private as soon as possible.