Criminal sanctions for misuse of CCTV images in France

By a judgment of February 24, 2015, the Paris Court of Appeal issued criminal sanctions both against a restaurant “La Closerie des Lilas” and its manager, for misuse of a CCTV system which had been put in place for security purposes and not to monitor employees. It also awarded compensation to the employee for moral damages.

In this case, an employee who had been dismissed was disputing in court the justification for his dismissal. The employer’s lawyer sent two images – which had been extracted from the CCTV system – to the former employee’s lawyer which were meant to justify the dismissal.

The employee then wrote to the CNIL to ask for which purpose the CCTV system had been notified. The CNIL answered that the CCTV system had been registered only for security purposes, not for monitoring of employees.

Following this, the images were not produced in court by the employer. The court ruled that the dismissal was unjustified and that the employer had to pay 33.000 euros to the employee.

Although the CCTV pictures had not been produced in court, the employee argued that his former employer had no right to send them to his lawyer, as this communication was contrary to the purpose for which the CCTV system had been put in place and notified to the CNIL.

This argument was not followed by the Court of First Instance, but the Paris Court of Appeal overruled the first judgment and ruled that the communication of the CCTV images in the context of the trial for the purpose of proving the employee’s behavior, was against the initial security purpose.

The Court therefore ruled that both the company and its manager had committed the offence of using CCTV images for another purpose than those allowed, as stated by Article L254-1 of France’s Internal Security Code.

The Court of Appeal exempted the employer from penalties for this offence as the images had not been produced in court. But the employer had to pay his former employee 500 euros for moral prejudice resulting from misuse of his personal information, in addition to the 33,000 euros for unjustified dismissal, plus 1,000 euros for the cost of the trial.

This judgment from the Paris Court of Appeal recognizes that privacy harm can result in moral damages for the employee whose pictures were misused, in addition to criminal sanctions. In doing so, the Paris Court followed the same path as the one recently taken - on a much wider scale - by the England and Wales Court of Appeal decision of March 27 2015 in Google v. Vidal-Hall, which also ruled that emotional distress, or moral damage, is recoverable under privacy and data protection law.

This case also illustrates once more the legal importance and consequences of notifying personal data systems in France with the CNIL and communicating this information within your organisation.

Author: Ariane Mole, Partner, Bird & Bird, Paris. Reported with her permission.