The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of which Britain is a member, has ruled that employers do have the right to read personal messages in work hours. The case was brought by a Romanian engineer, Mr Barbulescu, whose private messages were accessed by his employer through his work computer.
He was subsequently fired from his job, as his contract stipulated that personal messages were not allowed on company time. The employee believed that this was a breach of privacy and sort redress within the Romanian courts. Mr Barbulescu, after failing to win in Romania, decided to take his case to the European Court to challenge the Romanian court’s judgement.
However, the European Court concurred with the Romanian decision saying that as the messages were sent on company property and during working hours, his employers had the right to terminate his employment. The European judgement, in which only one of the seven judges dissented, believed that this did not contribute a breach of privacy and the judgement will now become case precedent across the ECHR’s members.
But the judgement has been met with condemnation in Britain with both bosses and trade unionists warning that they should not start wholesale snooping on employees, despite what the ECHR may rule. The Director-General of the Institute of Directors Simon Walker said: “Employees should not be subject to Stasi-style surveillance at work,” with Mr Walker going on to say that employers should not read private messages.
The judgement is unlikely to change much in Britain, however, as most business groups have already urged moderation. However, the precedent set by the ECHR could make sending a cheeky message from a work computer or network that little bit more rebellious.