Saturday 18 November 2017

EU rule bans bosses from spying on staff emails

The European ruling handed down concerned a Romanian man fired 10 years ago for using a Yahoo messaging account to text his family. Stock image
The European ruling handed down concerned a Romanian man fired 10 years ago for using a Yahoo messaging account to text his family. Stock image
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Companies may not spy on employees' email or messaging accounts, according a ruling by the European Court Of Human Rights.

Although the ruling has no direct effect in Irish or EU law, experts say that it will establish a significant precedent in the evolution of digital privacy rules at work.

The European ruling handed down concerned a Romanian man fired 10 years ago for using a Yahoo messaging account to text his family.

Although local courts found nothing wrong with the company's decision to terminate the employee, the European court found that Bogdan Barbulescu's private correspondence could not be intercepted because his company had not given prior notice that it was monitoring his communications.

The European court in Strasbourg ruled by an 11-6 majority that Romanian judges, in backing the employer, had failed to protect Barbulescu's right to private life and correspondence.

The case could force Irish employers that claim oversight of employee communications to restate more clearly their monitoring policies.

Instant messaging services such as Slack, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are increasing popular in Irish offices.

The ruling comes after European data privacy authorities ruled that bosses may not sift through workers' social media accounts unless for narrowly-defined, work-related purposes.

"Employers should not assume that merely because an individual's social media profile is publicly available they are then allowed to process those data for their own purposes," said the guidance statement from Europe's 'Article 29' working party, which is made up of data regulators from around Europe.

"A legal ground is required for this processing, such as legitimate interest."

A spokeswoman for the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, affirmed the rules' validity here.

The latest judgement will be closely scrutinised across Europe. Research last year found that European employees send about 100 private messages a day from their desk. Nearly 70pc of workers admitted that they regularly send private WhatsApp, Facebook, and other messages during the work day according to the research from Dice.

Irish Independent

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