News and Events



Big Brother is watching your smartphone

View profile for Casian Sala

Big Brother is watching your smartphone


The Guardian offers a cautionary tale to workers in the EU, who may find their employers are keeping a keen cyber-eye on their online communications. A ruling at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier this week concerned a Romanian engineer fired way back in 2007. His company had discovered that he was using Yahoo Messenger – a pretty much long-forgotten platform for online chat – not only to talk to his professional contacts but to family members including his fiancée and his brother.

It was the company policy that messaging apps such as Yahoo Messenger were strictly for professional policies. The engineer’s legal team argued that, au contraire, it was a violation of his human rights to forbid him the right to confidential correspondence, since it was evident that his communications had been monitored.

However, the court sided with the employer, stating that it was hardly “unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”. It should be noted that, in an action slightly adding insult to injury, transcripts of the Romanian engineer’s online chats had been used against him in court. His lawyers had argued that this, too, was untenable, but the courts held that it had been entirely permissible since it had “proved that he had used the company’s computer for his own private purposes during working hours.” The court pointed out that the identities of those with whom the engineer had been communicating were withheld, preserving at least a degree of privacy.

This is of course of relevance to the English courts, since ECHR judgments are binding on countries that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. A development well worth nothing by lawyers, not least those who are keen to bring their own working practices up to date by making use of the social media comms platforms. If you are concerned with the seemingly endless task of balancing building a modern legal workplace without falling foul of IT pitfalls, the expert IT and litigation support professionals at Legastat can help.