Yes, you can snoop on your staff

More Euro weirdness. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has decided that an employer was justified in monitoring an employee’s private Yahoo Messenger chats. That happened in 2007, when Yahoo Messenger was still a thing, but it’s the principle that matters. It may have taken a mere 9 years to grind its way through the fine mill of European justice, but it puts quite a big hole in the existing UK legislation – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) and the Interception of Communications Regulations (TLBRICR – snappy, huh?), also from 2000.

Broadly, UK law says employers can’t intercept private emails; by the same token, employees have an expectation of privacy for private phone calls. Now the ECHR has – very unusually – taken the side of business and said that employers can, and not just to prevent unauthorised use of their systems but to “to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours”. That opens a huge can of worms, since the things an employer could do in that regard are legion – see for instance the briefly introduced and quickly removed presence monitoring the Daily Telegraph tried to use to see if their journos were actually keeping their noses to the grindstone.

The ECHR ruling is binding on signatories to the European Convention. More ammo for the Brexit crowd? Except I’d suspect they’d mostly side with the ECHR on this one. Either way, I’d suggest checking with your lawyers before you start listening in on calls and reading your employees’ billets doux.

In other news, I’m slowly working my way through the 99-odd substantive pages of the final text of the new European General Data Protection Regulations. I’ll hold fire until I’ve finished digesting the sparkling euro-prose, but there’s some very interesting and challenging stuff in there. It will mean a lot of change and a lot of work for a lot of people. Watch this space.

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