Firms must inform Employees of Work Email Monitoring - European Court decides

Employers must tell staff before they snoop

This overturns rulings made in Romanian courts, which said the employer was within its rights to monitor Bărbulescu's computer activity using software.

Mr Barbulescu argued that his employer invaded his right to privacy by spying on messages which included details about his health and sex life, but both a Romanian court and the ECHR had previously ruled in support of the employer.

Barbulescu was working as an engineer in charge of sales from 2004 to 2007 when his employer asked him to create a Yahoo Messenger account to answer clients' queries.

The European Court of Human Rights has just ruled that companies have to warn employees they will look at their work email and messaging accounts.

The US has no such law, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

"While employers may restrict such rights, insofar that it is deemed necessary, those restrictions can not reduce private social life in the workplace to zero", said Privacy International Head of Policy and Advocacy Tomaso Falchetta.

The case is likely to be examined carefully by lawyers as the ease of modern communications blurs boundaries between work and leisure time.

The court concluded that Barbulescu had not been informed in advance of the extent and nature of his employer's monitoring or the possibility that it might gain access to the contents of his messages. The firm's rules banned private use of online accounts.

The court also said there had not been a sufficient assessment of whether there were legitimate reasons to monitor Barbulescu's communications.

In an initial decision in January previous year, the ECHR ruled that it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours".

The latest judgment, issued in the higher chamber of the court, reversed that conclusion. The Court added that the Romania courts failed to examine whether Bărbulescu had been provided sufficient notice of potential monitoring of his communications, the degree of intrusion into Bărbulescu's private life through real time monitoring, whether there was a legitimate reason for the monitoring, and whether less intrusive methods could have been used to accomplish the intended goal of detecting violations of the company's regulations. "If employers are going to monitor their staff's emails, they should explicitly tell them", said a spokesperson for Open Rights Group.

"The Grand Chamber judgement confirms that individuals have a right to privacy in the workplace".

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