The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday that companies need to inform workers prior to monitoring their communication.
The landmark case of Bogdan Bărbulescu overturns a previous judgment issued 18-months ago, which gave employers the right to monitor the messaging activity of their employees during office hours.
From Tuesday onwards, workers surveillance that is not in the knowledge of the employee is illegal. The Grand Chamber ruled that workers have a right to privacy even when they are at work and that right cannot be unduly restricted.
The case dates back to 2007. Mr. Bărbulescu is a software engineer from Bucharest who was fired for using the company’s Yahoo messaging account for personal communication with his family. In July 2007, the company informed him that his communication with his brother and his fiancée during work hours had been monitored and he was fired.
Mr. Bărbulescu sued his company in Romania, but the case and subsequent appeals were dismissed. His lawyers then took the case to the EHCR, arguing that Mr. Bărbulescu’s dismissal violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that protects the right to privacy and family life, including private correspondence.
International rights groups hailed the landmark proposal. According to a statement issued by the advocacy group Privacy International, this is a welcome precedent but there are still many gray areas about privacy in the workplace, particularly in the unregulated gig economy. One of the main concerns is the exploitation of individual personal data for-profit by their employers.