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Transparency International Says Deutsche Bahn Went Too Far

Anti-corruption agency Transparency International says Germany's national rail company Deutsche Bahn went too far with its two mass employee surveillance operations.

A signal is seen in front of the former headquarters of Deutsche Bahn in Frankfurt

The German government has demanded a thorough explanation from Deutsche Bahn

In a statement published on its website on Wednesday, Feb. 4, the German branch of Transparency International questioned the appropriateness of Deutsche Bahn's investigations.

It should have been sufficient to "probe only the employees directly involved with awarding contracts," wrote the organization.

Deutsche Bahn has acknowledged that the bank data of 173,000 employees was secretly compared with customer data in an effort to uncover corrupt practices. The first operation was conducted in 2002-2003 and, according to new information confirmed by Deutsche Bahn this week, a second employee investigation was carried out in 2005.

Legality called into question

Transparency International also questioned the legality of the surveillance procedures, considering that workers' representatives were not involved, neither were the affected employees informed of the investigations after they took place.

While anti-corruptions strategies are commonplace, particularly in large firms like Deutsche Bahn, the laws have to be observed.

Hartmut Mehdorn

Some have called for CEO Mehdorn to step down

"As far as data privacy is concerned, the employees who are screened, and where no problems are found, have to be informed after the fact," Heidelberg-based labor lawyer Michael Eckert told Focus magazine's online edition.

Eckert added that the scope of Deutsche Bahn's investigation was much too wide and that only those employees in positions with a particularly high corruption risk should have been screened.

Support for clearer data protection laws

Though there has not yet been an official verdict on the legality of Deutsche Bahn's surveillance practices, the affair has led a handful of politicians to call for stricter -- and clearer -- data privacy laws in the workplace.

"In my opinion, it's urgently necessary to regulate more precisely the conditions and limitations on accessing employee data," Sebastian Edathy from the Social Democratic Party told the daily Osnabruecker Zeitung.

Max Stadler from the Free Democratic Party was quoted in the Berliner Zeitung as saying, "Despite all the understandable efforts companies make to fight corruption, it's time to legislate clear rules regarding data privacy."

Bahn shot itself in the foot

Still, whether or not Deutsche Bahn acted within the law, Transparency International said the company's surveillance operations were bad for morale and only hurt its anti-corruption efforts.

"With its non-transparent approach, Deutsche Bahn has put a strain on the work environment and the leadership culture and jeopardized its chance of winning over its loyal employees in the fight against corruption," said Transparency International in its statement.

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