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German Court Rules Bosses Can't Use Keyboard-Tracking Software To Spy On Workers (thelocal.de) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Local: The Federal Labour Court ruled on Thursday that evidence collected by a company through keystroke-tracking software could not be used to fire an employee, explaining that such surveillance violates workers' personal rights. The complainant had been working as a web developer at a media agency in North Rhine-Westphalia since 2011 when the company sent an email out in April 2015 explaining that employees' complete "internet traffic" and use of the company computer systems would be logged and permanently saved. Company policy forbade private use of the computers. The firm then installed keylogger software on company PCs to monitor keyboard strokes and regularly take screenshots. Less than a month later, the complainant was called in to speak with his boss about what the company had discovered through the spying software. Based on their findings, they accused him of working for another company while at work, and of developing a computer game for them. [...] So the programmer took his case to court, arguing that the evidence used against him had been collected illegally. The Federal Labour Court agreed with this argument, stating in the ruling that the keylogger software was an unlawful way to control employees. The judges added that using such software could be legitimate if there was a concrete suspicion beforehand of a criminal offense or serious breach of work duties.
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German Court Rules Bosses Can't Use Keyboard-Tracking Software To Spy On Workers

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  • if only we had an Federal Labour Court or union in the usa.

    Dam the EU is so nice. Over time cap / better workers rights and healthcare not tied to jobs.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Europe is far from a paradise. But on this account you are right: employment and slavery are very distinct matters in EU.

    • Dam the EU is so nice. Over time cap / better workers rights and healthcare not tied to jobs.

      Somewhat startlingly, these are among the very reasons that some wanted UK to leave EU. They call it "taking back control", but things like this are what has irked a lot of the anti-Europeans in the Conservative party.

  • TL;DR version (Score:5, Interesting)

    by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Thursday July 27, 2017 @04:26PM (#54894669)

    1. Company A used blanket monitoring software on its employees' machines;
    2. Employee was caught by above-mentioned software working for another company while at work at company A;
    3. Employee argues proof gathered was gathered illegally.
    4. Court agrees with employee.

    Outcome might have been differently if company A would only have monitored suspected employees instead of all of them.

    • Outcome might have been *different.

    • Outcome might have been differently if company A would only have monitored suspected employees instead of all of them.

      Not in Germany no. Frankly this won't be the end of it. Expect to hear about huge fines dished out to the company for this. The Germans have workplace privacy dialled up to 11. It is hard enough to capture working metrics on equipment that involves a person operating it if it is possible to link it to a person. e.g. "Alarm at 10:31am, Operator acknowledged alarm at 10:32am" if you have a record of who the operator of the equipment was you damn well better not be capturing the alarm information.

      The guys runn

      • Re:TL;DR version (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @12:38AM (#54896743) Homepage Journal

        That is not entirely true.

        Keeping human dignity intact at the workplace is great in Germany, but that doesn't mean that there are not ways to do it. In larger companies, where you have a workers council, getting their agreement is one way to do it. In all companies, having a suspicion and acting on it instead of doing some kind of Big Brother mass surveilance will most likely not get thrown out in court.

        What we in Germany don't like is treating workers as hamsters in a lab and recording every little thing they do just because you can.

        • Re:TL;DR version (Score:4, Informative)

          by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday July 28, 2017 @04:02AM (#54897077)

          Same in Belgium. First you need to inform the employees what you intend to do and why. e.g. recording calls from customers MUST be recorded. It also means that you not only must inform the customer, but also the employee.
          You can do screenshots and even complete recordings of the screen, but only during the conversation with the customer. And again the employee must be informed with that and even needs to give his OK. Yes, I have had people who refused. Those people did not last long and that had nothing to do with the fact they refused. It was just not a the right job for both of them.

          There are also serious restrictions on filming employees.

          I believe that this all comes because Europe and the US see privacy in a different thing.
          In the US everything is public, unless it is private. In the EU everything is private, unless it is public.
          This is obviously not 100%. You could compare it a bit with opt-in vs. opt-out.

          That means that even in a public place you will have some sort of right on privacy. Your data belongs to you and can not just be sold to others.

          If a friend asks for my phone number at a third mutual friend, they will not just give it. They will ask me permission to give it.
          That means that my N+1 has my phone number, but not HR. There is no need for them to have it.

          So it is very different from what would be standard in the US.

        • Go Germany! Humane treatment!! Maybe the US could learn something.
          • by Tom ( 822 )

            Please. Name one country on this earth that doesn't have its own history of genocide, warfare, witchhunts or other barbarism.

        • where you have a workers council, getting their agreement

          Ahhh I see what you did there. No man I'm not playing your silly game. I'd rather dedicate my time to something with a higher success rate, like finding the last surviving unicorn.

          • by Tom ( 822 )

            Argued like a real pro from a sample size of what, may I ask? One?

            There are some dick-headed workers councils that don't see beyond their class-warfare politics. There are some worthless councils that say "yes, master" to everything the company wants. There are some fantastic councils who manage the balance between protecting employee rights and being pragmatic with the needs of the company. Most councils fall somewhere inbetween these extremes.

            • Argued like a real pro from a sample size of what, may I ask? One?

              Not argued, just being slightly facetious. You summarised it quite well, there's workers councils across the spectrum. I just happen to deal with the class warfare political side in our German plants, but it's likely due to the class of people (protection of the working class) and the history (chequered ownership with joint ventures from foreign companies).

              • by Tom ( 822 )

                These guys are typically problematic.

                My former HR boss is consulting in this field. I work with him sometimes. If you need professional support, I can set you up (my schedule is full, but I think he can fit a couple days in).

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      What the rule really needs to be is no spying on workers unless there's something to find. Of course if you knew there's something to find, there'd be no reason to spy on workers.

    • Who cares if the evidence was collected illegally, this is not the US, so facts aren't arbitrarily ignored or thrown. and even if it was the US, a company isn't the police.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        The German courts care. The people care and the Unions care.
        I would LOVE if they fired me over legit evidence that was collected illegally. No more working for the rest of my life and the company pays. It would become pretty expensive for them and all I have to do is sit at home and collect.

        And I am talking about evidence they find against me that I admitted to have done. Because that would mean the evidence could not be used in any way.

        • Only in punishing the person illegally collecting the evidence. It is not the US, evidence is evidence, it is not ignored unless it is untrustworthy or false.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How else is Volkswagen supposed to catch those 'rogue engineers' who programmed cheats into the control systems of diesel powered cars?

  • Sounds like the manager had way too much time on their hands.

    Sounds like the employee had way too much time on their hands.

    Looks like "upper-management" needs to focus on real worries, like getting more business or making the job more fulfilling. Clearly the employee was bored and wasn't one that was going to sit on their hands and do nothing while they still had a brain to use.

    It appears this could have been handled very differently by all parties involved.

    When office life turns into cops and robbers, no

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In this case the company installed software for the specific purpose of monitoring employees, but special rules also apply in the EU for routinely collected data that can be used to make inferences about peoples' work.

    Some of the commercial applications I administrate for my company automatically log whenever a user starts or stops the application. Those logs can be used somewhat to track how people spend their time at work.

    For US based employees we routinely publish usage summaries to help manage our soft

    • For EU based employees our legal department has advised be the usage data is confidential and cannot be shared with management without violating EU privacy laws.

      No, I doubt that's what they said.

      What your legal department probably told you instead was to anonymize the data and create reports using aggregates where possible. And where it wasn't possible, because the identity of the user(s) could be inferred, then yes, do not share that data with management.

  • Did they have a keylogger on the CEOs computer? That could be a can of worms.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday July 27, 2017 @05:47PM (#54895229) Homepage

    German Court Rules Bosses Can't Use Keyboard-Tracking

    Keyboard tracking?

    09:00 Keyboard is on desk
    09:01 Keyboard is on desk
    09:02 ...

    Well, you get the idea with that.

  • That's how Germany does this but how might this go over in some other part of the world? In a place like China or North Korea I can see a manager doing this but since the government owns everything that's just life in a dictatorship. What about free parts of the world where people are free to work and live where they like?

    I've heard of places with union rules that prevent such monitoring. That might not stop the practice but it does require being quiet about it. Places where people work on government co

  • my cisco story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 27, 2017 @08:23PM (#54895939)

    I worked for cisco a long time ago and have a friend who's been there almost from the very beginning. he moved to europe and stayed with cisco. he told me a story. it goes like this:

    in the US, cisco installs spyware on EVERY pc laptop (along with fake certs that allow them a MitM access to their pseudo encrypted network i/o). in the US, cisco does not tell their employees this, exactly; they just say 'they have the right to monitor employees' but they don't say anything more than that and most cisco employees (the younger ones, at least) are kept ignorant. I saw them reading personal email on work systems, etc etc. really stupid!

    in europe, cisco is FORCED to tell employees much more detail about their spying and keylogging. it was via this route (lol) that I found how what cisco is really up to. the guys in holland, germany (etc) know they are being monitored (to the extent that its legal) but in the US, employees are kept in the dark.

    note, this is not about cisco; its probably EVERY large corp in the US. the point is: the US is too business-friendly and consumer/employee hostile. overseas, its much more balanced. they have more rights over there, in general, and companies don't OWN their fucking asses like they do here.

    folks, be careful if you work for a large corp in the US. you have been spied on, data logged and MitM'd. and likely, you had no idea, either, since no one told you (for certain).

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday July 28, 2017 @04:40AM (#54897157)

    I was a railway dispatcher before retirement and all my keystrokes were logged by law, (ESTW) because otherwise nobody would have known which actions were triggered when by whom, in case of an accident. Also all my communications, phone, radio etc were recorded as well.

    For air traffic controllers it's the same thing.

  • The man went to court for being fired based on the tracking software, and won, but he didn't dismiss working on a game for another company during working there.. That's his biggest mistake... Now the company can claim ownership over the code he wrote for the game, as they can claim the code was written while working for the company (doesn't even really matter if it was in his free time (unless his job entailed something completely different like being a busdriver for the company).
    As an employee you should m

    • by Wulf2k ( 4703573 )

      "We're ignoring your proof" would be the answer they got if they tried that. ...Exactly like what happened here.

      • That's a completely different case. It doesn't even really matter if the code was written during his free time. As I said, you have to make damn sure your contract has these things covered, but most contracts don't as developers don't even think about this possibility until it happens to them.
        He couldn't be fired because of the method they used to find out he did work for another company during office hours, but they certainly can use it to proof he did work on other companies software during his time at th

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