The European Court of Human Rights has set an interesting predcedent for workplace internet use by ruling in favour of a company that accessed its employees personal online communications.
In the case brought forward by Romanian national Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu in 2007, the court argued that his employer was within its rights to access messages he had sent via Yahoo Messenger during work hours.
Judges said it was legal because the employer had the right to “check the manner in which its employees complete their professional tasks”.
Even though he was using Yahoo Messenger to chat with his fiancee and brother as well as professional contacts, company policy prohibited the use of the messaging app for personal purposes.
The ECHR dismissed the engineer's argument that the company had violated his right to confidential correspondence saying it was not “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”, adding that the company looked at the messages thinking they contained professional messages.
Defending the decision by Romania's courts to allow chat logs of the engineer's communications to be used against him in court, judges explained, “it proved that he had used the company's computer for his own private purposes during working hours.”
The court said that by withholding the identities of the people with whom he had communicated, Romania's courts ruled fairly, accounting for a respect for privacy and the interests of the employer.
The ruling has brought into the spotlight questions surrounding how employers deal with the separation of personal and work life on accounts that are used outside the office.
However, as the case brought to the court by Bărbulescu involves using a professional account that the employer mistook for a personal one, it's unlikely the ruling will apply to personal mobile phones, so applications like WhatsApp messages are probably safe.