Barclays Probed by U.K. Privacy Agency for Snooping on Staff

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Barclays Plc faces a U.K. privacy investigation over software that checks on what staff are doing, the Information Commissioner’s Office said Monday.

“We have an ongoing investigation relating to Barclays’ alleged use of employee monitoring tools,” the ICO said in an emailed statement.

The probe was earlier reported by the Daily Telegraph, which said the bank used a Sapience Analytics program to study workers anonymously for 18 months.

While U.K. privacy rules don’t forbid companies monitoring employees electronically, people are entitled to a degree of privacy, the ICO said.

“If organizations wish to monitor their employees, they should be clear about its purpose and that it brings real benefits,” the data-protection authority said. “Organizations also need to make employees aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring.”

Despite leaving the EU earlier this year, Britain still adheres to the General Data Protection Regulation, one of the world’s strictest privacy laws. This gives watchdogs such as the ICO tough powers and raises potential fines for companies to as much as 4% of global annual sales.

Barclays referred to a statement it made in February, saying it “always intended to listen to colleague feedback as part of this limited pilot, and we have taken steps to ensure that no individual data is visible to managers.”

The software allowed managers to measure the length of time employees were away from their desks or how long they took to finish tasks, the Telegraph said. The bank switched on additional functions in February that allowed managers to pick out individuals, the report said.

After protests from employees at the time, the bank stopped the monitoring later that month, and informed the ICO of its actions, according to the Telegraph.

— With assistance by Silla Brush

(Updates with Barclays comment in seventh paragraph.)

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