European Court rules bosses can monitor employees' private messages on WhatsApp and other messaging services

Siobhan Fenton
Wednesday 13 January 2016 10:27 GMT
Zuckerberg told Brazilians to use Facebook Messenger while WhatsApp is blocked
Zuckerberg told Brazilians to use Facebook Messenger while WhatsApp is blocked (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Companies have the right to monitor their workers’ online private messages, a court has ruled.

The European Court of Human Rights made the ruling on a case involving a Romanian engineer who was fired after using Yahoo Messenger not only to communicate with professional contacts, but also to send messages to his fiancée and brother.

Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu was asked to create the Yahoo account in order to answer clients’ queries. In 2007, he was approached by his employers and told that they had been monitoring his chats over several days, citing the company policy that the service should have been used for work purposes only.

He was presented with a 45 page transcript of his messages, including those sent to his fiancée.

The Strasbourg court sided with his employer that it was “not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours.”

The judge dismissed the Barbulescu’s claim that his right to privacy had been breached in the form of his confidential correspondence being compromised.

Rulings of the European Court of Human Rights are binding to countries which have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, including the UK.

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Lawyer Michael Burd, Head of Employment at London firm Lewis Silkin, told Bloomberg: “This decision is significant for a number of European countries. There’s been a very strict division between employers’ ability to look at private stuff and employers’ ability to look at company stuff and this decision will break that down.

“What’s significant about this case is that they were allowed to use the content, not simply the fact of using Yahoo.”

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