Discounter Lidl has decided to reinstall surveillance cameras in selected German stores, Lebensmittel Zeitung and FAZ report. The move comes nearly ten years after all cameras were removed, following a major spying scandal on Lidl’s store staff that resulted in a fine of EUR1.5mn.
According to Marcel von Haber, Lidl’s executive in charge of legal affairs and data protection, up to 200 critical stores in Germany will be equipped with cameras, due to repeated cases of burglaries and assaults. “It is not just about damage to property,” von Haber added. “In every third case staff members are being threatened or even hurt.” The wish for surveillance has come from the staff, he stressed.
The surveillance concept is being developed together with the data protection officer of Baden-Württemberg, the federal state in which Schwarz Group’s discounter has its headquarters. Placement of cameras is limited to critical areas, in consultation with store managers, staff and a data protection expert. The need for camera installations will be reviewed annually. Less intrusive options are also being assessed, such as instore security personnel.
I don't like being on candid camera. Well, the likelihood that any of us will be filmed at Lidl in the future is fairly low, given that there will still be 3,000 Lidl stores in the country without cameras. (We note that the discounter’s new store concept has lower shelves, which makes camera-less surveillance easier.) Then again, this may not be true for me, considering that the stores I visit most often are in central Berlin, surely hot spots of various intents that go beyond grocery shopping.
The other day in discount store A, I watched someone walking in with his hands empty and then walking out with a six pack of water, simply passing by the people waiting in the checkout line. Unnoticed by everyone but me! My first feeling was anger: how dare he! The second: why am I stupid enough to wait in line and pay while he simply walks out. And the third: damn retailer A, why don’t you do anything and effectively let the rest of us pay for his stuff?
Well, Lidl is doing something – and it is reasonable and understandable why. Of course, to avoid making thieves aware, the discounter won’t say in public that the majority of their stores will still have no surveillance cameras - so it is the protection of staff that serves as the main reason for the installation.
A lot of people will show understanding for these security measures, provided they are well explained. Times have changed, especially in the past ten years; those who oppose CCTV in public places are (regrettably, in my view) in a defensive position, not least due to horrible incidents across Europe. This does not mean that some remain rightfully critical. Quite the contrary, it makes data protection even more important. When the question is no longer whether or not we are monitored (with cameras, mobile phones, or on the internet), it is more important to clarify the question of who gets access to the data – and how. The camera data at Lidl is only kept for 48 hours; it can only be accessed with a password requested by the authorities for law enforcement reasons; and it is permanently assessed by data protection specialists.
I wish other retailers had such strict standards, even more so the internet and mobile phone companies; and the government. How will these organisations handle data concerns with all the opportunities that new technology such as face recognition will provide? Lidl may attract concerns about data protection because it is talking about it, but at the moment, my data will be more secure there than at any other retailer.