Bosses must tell work­ers if they are spy­ing on emails

Computer Active (UK) - - News -

Com­pa­nies must tell em­ploy­ees if they are read­ing their per­sonal emails and mes­sages, the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

Its judge­ment came in a case brought by Ro­ma­nian soft­ware en­gi­neer Bog­dan Mi­hai Bar­bulescu, who claimed he was un­law­fully sacked by his com­pany in 2007 for send­ing pri­vate mes­sages us­ing Ya­hoo Mes­sen­ger.

His em­ployer had used soft­ware to se­cretly mon­i­tor his com­puter ac­tiv­ity. He was shown print­outs of mes­sages he’d sent, some of which dis­cussed his sex life with his fi­ancée.

A Ro­ma­nian court ruled in 2016 that the firm was within its rights, a de­ci­sion now over­turned by the ECHR. It said that his com­pany had failed to “strike a fair balance” be­tween pro­tect­ing his pri­vacy and en­sur­ing the busi­ness runs smoothly.

The ECHR added that it wasn’t clear whether Mr Bar­bulescu had been warned his mes­sages would be read, and that the Ro­ma­nian court had failed to es­tab­lish why his com­pany was mon­i­tor­ing him.

It con­firmed that com­pa­nies can still sack em­ploy­ees if they use busi­ness email for per­sonal use. How­ever, the em­ployer must take suf­fi­cient safe­guards to pre­vent abuse be­fore it gets out of hand.

Guide­lines for UK com­pa­nies are given in the Data Pro­tec­tion Act and the In­ter­cep­tion of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Act. They state that com­pa­nies must let em­ploy­ees know they are be­ing mon­i­tored, and give a good rea­son for do­ing so.

Le­gal ex­perts said the rul­ing wouldn’t have a big im­pact on UK law. Ca­t­rina Smith, em­ploy­ment part­ner at Nor­ton Rose Ful­bright, told the BBC: “It will hope­fully re­mind em­ploy­ers that they need to think about these is­sues and be very clear with em­ploy­ees about what is and isn’t per­mis­si­ble”.

She added that em­ploy­ees should be “smarter about the way in which they use both per­sonal and work de­vices”.

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