Your employer can read your private messages, court says

private message

But a new EU ruling means that employers can legally monitor those conversations, reports Wired.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a Romanian company had the right to surveil an employee’s personal instant messages for a week back in 2007. The court wrote in its judgement: “The Court finds that it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours,”

As the ECHR’s judgements are binding on countries that have approved the European Convention on Human Rights. As the UK is one of countries haven given approval the ruling could have ramifications for how we communicate in the office.

Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu, the worker in question, claimed that he was using Yahoo Messenger to respond to his clients’ enquiries. But his employer — which isn’t named in the court document — handed him a 45 page transcript of his communications for that week.

The transcripts included messages sent from his work and personal accounts, and conversations with his fiancee and brother that “related to personal matters.”

“They referred to the sexual health problems affecting the applicant and his fiancee,” the court wrote. And “the messages also dealt with other personal information, such as his uneasiness with the hostile working environment.”

But the court ruled that so long as companies are transparent about it, they can surveil their employees throughout the working day.

“The employer had accessed the applicant’s Yahoo Messenger account in the belief that it had contained professional messages, since the latter had initially claimed that he had used it in order to advise clients,” the court wrote. It ruled this surveillance “legitimate”.