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European Court Says Companies Can Check Employees’ Private FaceBook and WhatsApp Messages

Europe just took a metaphorical sh*t on its reputation as a stringent protecter of personal data.

According to the European Court of Human Rights, it’s now perfectly fine for companies to monitor their workers’ online private messages through services like FaceBook and WhatsApp.

The ruling is the result of a case in which a Romanian engineer, Bogdan Mihai Barbulescu, was fired for using Yahoo Messenger to send messages to his fiancée and brother, who were not considered professional contacts.

Barbulescu argued that the company violated his right to confidential correspondence, which was promptly dismissed by the court. “[It’s] not unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours,” said the ruling.

That’s a reasonable sentiment, but a little too black and white for 2016. What if the employee was on break? Or worked unpaid overtime because his or her compensation is task- and not time-based? Does Bogdan asking his wife what he should pick up for dinner on the way home really derail his professional performance?

Perhaps what’s most necessary to recognize is that the modern workplace is one where occasional personal correspondence and professional task completion can coexist without the collapse of labour as we know it. We’ve yet to find convincing evidence to suggest that access to and participation in personal messaging is a factor in declining worker output.

Barbulescu is also concerning because of the extent to which his privacy was infiltrated. The judges presiding over the case defended the decision by Romania’s courts to allow transcripts of the engineer’s communications be used against him in court.

“What’s significant about this case is that they were allowed to use the content, not simply the fact of using Yahoo,” said London-based lawyer Michael Burd in an interview with Independent.

Furthermore, Romania’s domestic court ruled that Barbulescu did not “convincingly explain why he had used the Yahoo messenger account for personal purposes.”

Our best guess? Probably because it was personal.


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