A slippery slope? Judge rules employers can read staff chats

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a firm that read an employee’s Yahoo Messenger account while he was a work did nothing wrong.

The employee, a Romanian engineer, had previously lost his case in a local court but had pursued the matter to the ECHR. His claim that he had a right to a private life had been breached when his employers accessed a Yahoo Messenger account he had set up for work as well as a personal account.

The employer had banned its staff from sending personal messages at work and the judges felt that it had been necessary for his employer to access his records, which they deemed reasonable as this was a proportionate step because the firm did not access other information stored on his work computer. They also took into consideration that the employee had had prior warnings that the company could and would check his messages.

However, this ruling raises more questions than it answers, such as why did the judges not comment on the employer accessing the employee’s second personal account. Also, they did not elaborate on whether the ruling would have been different had the employee used his own personal device.

The judges said: "The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings."

Will this start a trend of employers checking up on the private messaging accounts of their staff? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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