Court: Dutch businesses may spy on employees’ chats, emails

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The European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday ruled that employers are allowed to read their employees' chats and emails sent during work time. "It is not unreasonable that an employer wants to check that employees do their work", the court decided, Dutch newspaper AD reports.

This verdict was in a case brought by a Romanian man who was fired after his employer found out that he sent private chat messages through a chat program designed for work purposes.

The court ruled that that an employer may read all messages sent during working hours, provided that the employee knows that this is happening. Employers may also, without permission, read all communications taking place via devices provided by the employer. It also allowed to film employees during work hours, but this is only permissible without permission if a serious crime such as drug dealing is being investigated.

In the Netherlands employers have been allowed to read employees' chats or emails during working hours for some time, though it is subject to conditions that protect the employees' privacy. There must be a clear reason for the spying, such as that the employee is downloading movies, watching porn or disclosing trade secrets. The spying may also not be done for extended periods of time. A spokesperson for the Dutch Privacy Authority called the European Court's ruling "a confirmation of Dutch legislation".