A new landmark decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that employers can read employees private messages sent via chat software when at work.
The case was brought by a Romanian engineer, Bogdan Barbulescu, who was dismissed in 2007 when his employer accessed his Yahoo Messenger Account. His employer accessed the messages on the assumption it had been used for professional activities, however, it showed that he had been using the chat software for both personal and professional contacts.
The court held that it was not unreasonable for the employer to access such an account in order to verify that one was undertaking professional tasks whilst at work and thus such access had been legitimate.
Mr Barbulescu's employer had in fact banned employees from sending personal messages and therefore the judges held that Mr Barbulescu breached company policy.
One of the seven judges disagreed with the decision and said that a blanket ban on personal internet use was unacceptable and that all employees should be made aware of any such policies and explicitly consent to them.
Mr Barbulescu claimed that the employer had breach his right to private life by accessing the Yahoo Messenger Account that he had set up for work, and the one he had set up for personal use.
Although Mr Barbulescu had made claims about his personal account, the court only discussed the work account in their ruling.
It is worth noting the impact of the decision in the UK domestic courts. Although the UK has agreed to abide by ECHR rulings, under UK human rights law, judges must take into account their decisions but are not bound by them.
For more information please see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35301148
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