Ikea spying collects data on employees and customers in France

Prosecutors have placed three senior Ikea executives in France under investigation amid allegations that they authorized illegal spying on employees and customers. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/business/international/france-investigates-allegations-against-ikea-executives.html?ref=world
The allegations first came to light in early 2012, when the French magazine Le Canard Enchaîné published what it said were emails between Ikea France executives and a private security company. According to the emails, Ikea had sought background checks on as many as 200 people, for which it paid €80 per request.
The people said to be the targets of spying included store employees, union leaders and job applicants as far back as 2008, according to French news media reports. The surveillance was also said to involve stores in at least nine locations in France, including Avignon, Grenoble, Reims and Tours.
The emails also indicated that a private security company, Sûreté International, had access to the computer databases of the national police, which contain the personal information of millions of French residents.
The well-publicized case has raised uneasy questions here about the sharing of data between law enforcement and businesses. French prosecutors said this week that the chief executive of Ikea France, Stefan Vanoverbeke, and two other people were being investigated for possible involvement in a conspiracy to collect a range of personal information, including criminal records, automobile registrations and property records.
The prosecutors said the information was collected to check on employees or to reveal unflattering background information about customers bringing complaints or lawsuits against Ikea, a Swedish home furnishings giant with operations in more than 40 countries.
Mr. Vanoverbeke’s predecessor as chief executive, Jean-Louis Baillot, and Ikea France’s current chief financial officer, Dariusz Rychert, were also placed under investigation, as were two unnamed police officers. Ikea France itself has been ordered to post a bond of 500,000 euros, or $673,000, while the inquiry continues, raising the possibility that the company could face legal action as well.
Under the French legal system, being placed under formal investigation is one step short of criminal charges.
Government records on individuals are strictly protected under the law, and allegations that they may have been shared with a private company have raised the hackles of labor unions and consumer groups.
At least one labor union, Force Ouvrière, is suing the company for “fraudulent use” of its members’ personal data.
“Here you have this innocuous company that sells home furnishings to students, accused of spying on its employees and its customers,” said Christopher Mesnooh, a partner in international business law at Field Fisher Waterhouse in Paris.
“This is a first-rate example of how protecting one’s identity and privacy is getting harder and harder to do, as technology gets ever more sophisticated, even in Europe, where privacy has been elevated to almost a sacrosanct principle.”

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