By Michael Moore
Workers may need to take extra care about who they are speaking to after a top European court ruled that companies are within their rights to monitor and read private messages sent by their employees during work hours.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said a firm that read one employee's private chats sent while he was on the clock was within its rights to sack him for not completing his professional duties within his contracted hours.
However, it warned that such policies must also protect workers against widespread snooping, and recommended that companies draw up policies to define exactly what information they are allowed to monitor and collect.
The case brought before the ECHR concerns a Romanian engineer sacked in 2007 after his employer discovered he had been using Yahoo Messenger to speak to personal contacts as well as professional ones during work hours.
He complained that his employer had breached his right to confidential correspondence when it accessed his messages. However, the court dismissed this, ruling that he had breached the company's rules and that his employer had a right to check that he was completing his work, especially as it believed it was accessing a work account.
The Strasbourg-based court's statement said that it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours".
"The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate," it added.
The ruling will add further weight to the calls for an Internet 'Bill of Rights', setting out rules and regulations governing fair use of the Internet in order to ensure online privacy is protected.
Back in 2014, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, called for an online version of the Magna Carta, the 13th-century document widely regarded as the first to ensure basic rights and freedoms for all, echoing a suggestion he previously made during the 25th anniversary of the founding of the World Wide Web earlier that year.