Private Messages at Work may be Read by Employers

Victoria Shepherd

Victoria Shepherd

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20 January 2016

Barbulescu v Romania

In a case before the European Court of Human Rights, it has been determined that an employee’s rights were not breached when his employer accessed private messages which had been sent from his Yahoo Messenger account. The employee, Mr Barbulescu, claimed that the actions of his employer were contrary to his “right to respect for his private life and correspondence”.

In balancing the rights of Mr Barbulescu against those of his employer, the court found that the actions of the employer had been “reasonable” given the circumstances. It transpired that the Yahoo account was set up exclusively for business use and the employer had a policy in place which strictly prohibited the use of its IT systems for personal use.

The employee initially claimed that he had not used the account to send personal messages. During the case it was highlighted that it seemed perverse for him to “claim an ‘expectation of privacy’ while at the same time denying any private use”. It is this point that is especially pertinent. Had the account been set up for personal use as well as business use, it is highly possible that a different decision may have been made. By being clear with the wording of their policy, and leaving no ambiguity about what the account was intended for, the employer had acted in an entirely reasonable manner by accessing the account.

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