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Engineer's bosses gave him printout of his Yahoo IMs. Euro court says it's OK

Dismisses privacy claims in Yahoo Messenger case

In case anyone doubted that their work communications can be legally monitored by their bosses, the European Court of Human Rights has now ruled that employers can indeed spy on online chats.

The continent-wide ruling came at the end of a case involving Romanian engineer Bogdan Mihai Bărbulescu, who was dismissed in 2007 for communicating with his fiancée via Yahoo Messenger while at work, which violated his employer's internal policy.

Bărbulescu claimed he used the chat service only for professional purposes. But his superiors showed him a transcript of his conversations on Yahoo Messenger, which included messages exchanged with his fiancée and his brother.

After terminating his contract for breaking policy, the engineer claimed his bosses broke the law by violating his privacy. He reckoned emails and other electronic missives are protected by article eight of the convention on human rights, which safeguards citizens' private lives and correspondence.

However, on Tuesday, the European court dismissed [PDF] Bărbulescu's argument that the company had violated his rights.

In its ruling, the panel of judges said: "[T]he court finds that it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours."

The court concurred with an earlier ruling by Romanian judges that the employer in Bucharest had acted within its disciplinary powers. It said the worker had not “convincingly explained why he had used the Yahoo Messenger account for personal purposes.” ®

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