magnifying-glassA recent European Court of Human Rights decision has provoked the mainstream media to label it as being the start of employers being able to intercept private employee communications “stasi” style.

Mr Barbulescu had appealed to the ECHR after having exhausted the Romanian domestic courts on the basis that his right to a private life had been violated. However ECHR determined that the Romanian court had not erred in finding that the employer was able to access the messages which eventually led to his dismissal.

Despite the furore that has appeared the case is not a landmark judgment and is in line with previous judgments and most domestic law including that of the UK. The ruling does not give your employer carte blanche to read your private Whatsapp messages sent from your mobile phone or privately owned tablet. However what it does is emphasise the fact that work email and work phones should be precisely for those purposes.

In this case Mr Barbulescu had been asked by his employer to set up a Yahoo Messenger account so that he could use it for business purposes. It transpired that Mr Barbulescu was in fact using it to message his fiancée which violated the employers internet policy in that it could not be used for personal purposes. It would of course have been a completely different story had he been sending personal Whatsapp messages to his fiancée from his own personal account on his own personal device. Unfortunately Mr Barbulescu sent messages via a work account set up for work purposes, during work hours on his work computer.

The case acts as a stress test of the current law and the judges were keen to outline that policies should be drawn up by employers that regulates how and what information they are able to collect.

In conclusion employees should be aware of their employers specific internet policy and remember to use their personal accounts and devices to play and their work accounts and devices to work.