European Court permits employer to view files on employee’s work computer
Libert v France, Application No. 588/13
On 22 February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dismissed a claim by an employee that his right to privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (European Convention) had been violated by his employer.
The applicant, Mr Libert, was employed by the French national railway company as the Deputy Head of the Amiens Regional Surveillance Unit. He was dismissed after his work computer was seized, and pornographic files and forged certificates for third persons were found on it. Mr Libert argued that his right to respect for private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention had been violated on the basis that his employer had opened personal files stored on the hard drive of his computer in his absence.
The government did not dispute either that the applicant’s files had been opened on his work computer or that it was done in his absence. According to the government, while there had been an interference with the applicant’s right to respect for his private life, this interference was justifiable. In the present case, the employer was a public authority, and the case therefore had to be analysed from the perspective of the state’s negative obligations in respect of article 8.
The ECtHR noted that, under certain circumstances, non-professional data stored on a work computer might be deemed to relate to private life. This would include, for instance, where the data was clearly identified as private. This accorded with the position under French law, and was geared towards protecting the rights of employers who might legitimately wish to ensure that their employees were using the computer facilities in line with their contractual obligations and applicable regulations. In respect of files marked as personal, employers would not be permitted to surreptitiously open such files unless there was a serious risk or exceptional circumstances.
The ECtHR had regard to various considerations, including whether the files were stored, how they were labelled, the employer’s professional code of ethics, and the fact that the applicant was an official responsible for general surveillance and expected to set an example. In conclusion, the ECtHR held that the domestic courts had properly assessed the applicant’s case and based their decisions on relevant and sufficient grounds, and found there to be no violation of article 8 of the European Convention.
The full judgment (in French) is accessible here.
The press release issued by the ECtHR (in English) is accessible here.
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