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Korean employees justified in covering security cameras

South Korea
Written by
Yulchon LLC, one of Korea’s top law firms.
The Korean Supreme Court has held that employees were justified in covering security cameras that had been installed without proper consultation.

The case

This case involved union members who covered various security cameras at the work site, and were prosecuted and convicted for interference with the employer’s business. On 29 June 2023 the Korean Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdicts against the union members with respect to their interference with the employer’s security cameras that were not aimed at the employees themselves, such as cameras installed at the fences of the worksite.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the employees were justified in covering up cameras that were aimed at the employees or could regularly film them, and had been installed without the proper procedures required by Korean privacy laws for filming the employees in their workplace and at the entrance.

The Supreme Court’s reasoning

The Court first analysed whether there was an applicable general exception to the legal requirement to obtain individuals’ consent to collect their personal information, under Korean privacy law. The Court made clear that such exceptions should be construed narrowly, and found that no exceptions applied. The Court reasoned that:

  • multiple employees’ personal information would be infringed by the CCTV monitoring, regarding how the employees work and enter/leave the workplace;
  • recording through CCTV where employees’ work could be monitored is a significant infringement of the data subjects’ rights;
  • the employees had not given their consent to installation of the CCTV cameras; and
  • there was no record of any effort by the Company to find alternative approaches to protect its property and prevent fire.


The Court therefore held that the Company could not rely on an exception based on a ‘manifestly superior’ interest to the employees’ privacy rights.

The Court further explained that there had also been no labour-management consultation. The Court explained that installation of CCTV cameras which would record employees at work required consultation with the employer’s labour-management council, which had not taken place. The Court then found that it was a ‘justifiable act’ under the Criminal Code, and thus not criminal, for the defendant-employees to cover the cameras that faced their workplaces.

The Court found covering these cameras justified because:

  • the purpose was to protect their basic right to privacy, which was infringed by the illegitimate CCTV installation, and was not meant to interfere with the Company’s efforts to protect its property;
  • the means used were proportionate, in that they merely temporarily covered the CCTV cameras with black plastic bags, and did not destroy or uninstall them;
  • the employees chose the CCTV cameras that actually monitored the employees as they went about their work; and
  • that despite the objections of the employees, the company had decided to continue to use the CCTV cameras.

The message for employers

Employers intending to install CCTV cameras at the workplace should carefully examine what procedures need to be followed and whether or not employee consent is required.

To find out more about employee data privacy

Christopher Mandel
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Wansoo Kim
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Soojung Lee
Soojung Lee
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Jahyeong Ku
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC
Tae Eun Lee
Partner - South Korea
Yulchon LLC