A judgment published on the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (France) defends that it is justified that a company reads and inspects the emails, private or professional, of any employee. The judgment is referred to a “specific” case occurred in Romania, according to sources of the Court, in which the company accessed to the email of an employee and found personal content which was read and even transcribed. Strasbourg is of the opinion that there is not privacy violation because the messages with private content were sent during the working hours through a corporate tool and, additionally, it was expressly forbidden on the internal regulations of the company.
The case began on 2008 when a Romanian citizen brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights.
This person worked from 2004 until August 2007 in the sales department of an engineering private company where he was ordered to create an account of Yahoo Messenger in order to answer clients’ enquiries.
On 13th July 2007 the managers of the company informed him that his messages and emails (going in and out of such Messenger account) had been inspected for a week and some literally transcriptions of private emails were also shown to him, where he sometimes spoke about health and sex issues with his partner and his brother, according to the statement of the Court.
The reaction of the company came quickly. On 1st August the company informed him about the end of his employment contract where he had been working for more than three years. The reason: the company forbids on its internal regulations the use of the corporate tools, as it could be the account of Yahoo or the Internet connection itself, for personal purposes. “In this way, the Court supports the decision of the Romanian Court”, they reaffirm from Strasbourg.
The judgment, which succeeded with six votes in favour and one against, also explains that the employee “was always informed of the company rules”, so he knew the risk that he was taking when he used the company tools with private purposes. “The employer was within its disciplinary powers […]. Therefore, the access to the e-mail of the employee was legitimate” explains the Court, which says that “we see no reason” to question the decision of the Court from Romania. The company, although from the moment of the interception of the messages –which thought all the time that they were professional- knew the identity of the recipients, but such identities were never revealed. For this reason, Strasbourg found a “balance” between the reading of the private messages of an employee by his employer and the maintenance of the right to privacy, explains the Court. In the first instance the employee claimed against the company, whose name has not been made public, but the complaint was rejected because “it is not unreasonable that an employer wants to ensure that the employees actually perform their professional duties during the working hours”, as it is stated on the statement of three pages.
From Tuesday on, the parties have three months to appeal the court decision. But first, this decision should be examined and evaluated by five judges who will decide if the appeal goes ahead or not, in which case the ruling will become firm, explains the Court.