26th Oct 2016

Germany to ban employers from snooping on Facebook

  • Germany wants to ban employers from tracking their job applicants on Facebook (Photo: Franco Bouly)

The German government has tabled a draft bill that would ban employers from profiling job applicants on social networks such as Facebook and prevent clandestine video surveillance at work.

Under the envisaged law, employers would still be able to run Internet searches on the names on the persons they want to hire, as long as the information is publicly accessible or present on professional websites, such as LinkedIn.

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But becoming friends with the prospective employee or even hacking their Facebook account in order to get personal information will be illegal and punishable with a fine of up to €300,000.

The measure may be difficult to enforce, however, as the employee would have to prove that personal information landed in his hiring file.

Presented by interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, the draft bill also includes a ban on secret video surveillance at work, after a series of scandals with big companies spying on their employees.

Discount-supermarket chain Lidl, car manufacturer Daimler, as well as the state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn have been criticised in the media for having installed secret cameras at the cash-desks, in the fitting rooms and in toilets, and for having snooped on employee's emails and private accounts.

Installing video cameras will still be allowed, but not in restrooms and fitting rooms and only as long as the employees are informed.

The bill still has to be debated and approved by the country's parliament after summer. It is expected that some of its provisions will be watered down, as powerful employers' associations have already signalled their opposition.

The retailers' association HDE said some of the regulations go much too far, and outlawing clandestine video surveillance would be wrong. "Here we hope for changes in the government draft," HDE said in a press release.

Germany's data protection watchdog, Peter Schaar, applauded the government's effort, calling it long overdue.

It is "a substantial improvement on the status quo in dealing with employee's data," he said. Germany's privacy rules are among the strictest in Europe, as a consequence of the secret surveillance imposed by the government during the Nazi regime.

After an outrage in Germany sparked by its street imagery programme, Google introduced an online tool just for Germans where they can request in advance that their properties do not appear on Street View.

A criminal investigation has also been launched into Google's collection of unencrypted Wi-Fi data as part of Street View, which the company said was a mistake and has stopped.

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