Tag Archives: Alistair Sloan

Privacy and the Monitoring of Communications in the Employment Setting

On 5th September 2017 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in the case of Bărbulescu v. Romania, which considers the application of the right to a private and family life contained in Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights to the monitoring of a person’s communications by their employer.

The background to the case is that an employee was dismissed by his employer for making use of company equipment and services (internet connection and computer) for personal purposes during working hours; in particular, he had been sending personal messages (some of which were of an “intimate nature”) to his brother and fiancée.  The company’s internal policies prohibited this use and after following the disciplinary process required by Romanian domestic law, he was dismissed.  He brought a case in the domestic courts and was unsuccessful in all of those courts.  He then brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights which ultimately ended up with the Grand Chamber issuing its decision on 5th September 2017.  The procedural background to the case is more fully set out in the Court’s judgment.

The Court stated that the relationship between an employee and their employer “is contractual, with particular rights and obligations on either side, and is characterised by legal subordination.” (paragraph 117) The court went on to state, at paragraph 118, that “labour law leaves room for negotiation between the parties to the contract of employment.  Thus, it is generally for the parties themselves to regulate a significant part of the content of their relations.”

In terms of the margin of appreciation afforded to States under the European Convention of Human Rights, the Court decided, at paragraph 119, that States “must be granted a wide margin of appreciation in assessing the need to establish a legal framework governing the conditions in which an employer may regulate electronic or other communications of a non-professional nature by its employees in the workplace.”  However, the Court went on to state, in paragraph 120 of its judgment, that “the discretion enjoyed by States in this field cannot be unlimited.  The domestic authorities should ensure that the introduction by an employer of measures to monitor correspondence and other communications, irrespective of the extent and duration of such measures, is accompanied by adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse.”  These adequate and sufficient safeguards, the court stated at paragraph 121, “are essential.”

The Court sets out five factors which it considers domestic authorities should treat as being relevant:

  1. What notification has been given to the employee regarding the possibility that the employer might take measures to monitor their correspondence and other communications, and what notification the employee has been given regarding the implementation of these measures;
  2. The extent of the monitoring by the employer and the degree of intrusion into the employee’s privacy (a distinction should be drawn between simply monitoring the flow of communications and the monitoring of the content of the communications);
  3. The reasons the employer has provided to justify the monitoring of their communications and their actual content – greater justification will be required for monitoring the content as opposed to just the flow;
  4. Whether it would have been possible for the employer to have in place a monitoring system that was based on less intrusive methods and measures than simply directly accessing the content of the employee’s communications;
  5. The consequences of the monitoring for the employee subjected to it, and the use made by the employer of the results of the monitoring operation, in particular whether the results were used to achieve the declared aim of the measure;
  6. Whether there were adequate safeguards in place; especially when the employer’s monitoring operations are of an intrusive nature.

This case makes it clear that it can be legitimate for an employer to monitor, not only the flow of private communications made by an employee on company systems, but also the actual content of the correspondence.  However, employers do not have an unlimited right.

Employers will have to think carefully about what aims they are trying to achieve by the monitoring of communications by employees on company systems and whether their proposed method of monitoring is proportionate with that aim.  Furthermore, employees should be given clear and fair notice of what monitoring is taking place and the purpose for the monitoring.

Employers will also need to give careful consideration to the safeguards that they need to have in place with regards to the monitoring procedures they have in place and ensure that what safeguards they do have in place are adequate.  With regards to safeguards, the court specifically stated that employers should not have access to the actual content of the correspondence concerned unless the employee has been notified in advance.

The court has also said that domestic authorities should ensure that any employee whose communications have been monitored has access to a remedy before a judicial body and that judicial body should have jurisdiction to determine, at least in substance, how the six criteria set out in its judgment have been observed and whether the impugned measures were in fact lawful.

This decision doesn’t really change the law as it already operated.  The decision does not prevent employers from undertaking the monitoring of communications by their employees on the employer’s systems.  However, the decision does act as a useful reminder that the ability to conduct such monitoring activities is not wholly unrestrained.  The decision, coupled with the forthcoming applicability of the General Data Protection Regulation, may well provide a good opportunity for employers to review their policies in this area to ensure that they are compliant with the law.

Alistair Sloan

If you would like advice on a matter concerning data protection or privacy, then you can contact our Alistair Sloan on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the contact page on this blog.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail directly.

Data Protection/Privacy Enforcement – August 2017

In this blogpost I shall be looking at the enforcement action taken by the Information Commissioner in the fields of data protection and privacy which was publicised during August 2017.  It is hoped that this will become a regular monthly feature on this blog.

Key Points

The key points from the enforcement action publicised by the ICO during the course of August are:

  • Ensure that where your organisation undertakes direct marketing by telephone, you do not make calls to numbers which are listed on the Telephone Preference Service; unless you have been given consent to make such calls.
  • Ensure that contractors who have access to personal data only have access to that personal data which is necessary for the services that they are providing to you.
  • Ensure that you have appropriate technical and organisational measures in places to prevent the unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data when processing personal data over the internet.
  • Ensure that all of your staff (including temporary and agency staff) are given data protection training which is appropriate to their job role, and to ensure that regular refresher training is undertaken.
  • If you are an employee and have access to personal data as part of your job role, do not make use of that access for any purposes not required as part of your employment; including for personal purposes.

Enforcement Action published by ICO in August 2017

H.P.A.S Limited (trading as Safestyle UK)

H.P.A.S Limited were served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £70,000 and an Enforcement Notice [pdf] after the Commissioner found that they had made unsolicited direct marketing calls to telephone numbers which were listed on the Telephone Preference Service.

Laura Anderson Limited t/a Virgo Home Improvements

Laura Anderson Limited were served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [PDF] in the amount of £80,000 and an Enforcement Notice [pdf] after the Commissioner found that they had made unsolicited direct marketing calls to telephone numbers which were listed on the Telephone Preference Service.

Home Logic UK Limited

Home Logic UK Limited were served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £50,000 after the Commissioner found that they had made unsolicited direct marketing calls to telephone numbers which were listed on the Telephone Preference Service.

Talk Talk Telecom Group Plc

Talk Talk Telecom Group Plc were served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £100,000.  The Commissioner found that they had failed to have in place adequate technical and organisational measures to prevent against the unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data.  Talk Talk Telecom Group Plc had in place unjustifiably wide-ranging access to personal data by external agents, which put that personal data at risk.

London Borough of Islington

The London Borough of Islington was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £70,000.  The Commissioner found that the Borough’s parking enforcement application had design flaws and some of the functionality was misconfigured, allowing for unauthorised access to personal data.

Nottinghamshire County Council

Nottinghamshire County Council was served with a Monetary Penalty Notice [pdf] in the amount of £70,000.  The Commissioner found that the Council had failed to have in place an authentication process for accessing an internet based allocation service for home carers; this left personal data and sensitive personal data exposed on the internet.

Cheshire West and Chester Council

Cheshire West and Chester Council signed an undertaking [pdf] stating that they would take certain steps to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998.  In particular the Commissioner was concerned that a number of self-reported incidents by the council involved staff who had not received data protection training.

Prosecution

A former employee of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust was prosecuted in The Colchester Magistrates’ Court.  The Defendant pleaded guilty to offences under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.  She had accessed the sensitive health records of friends and people she knew and disclosed some of the personal information she obtained obtained.  She was fined £400 for the offence of obtaining the personal data and £650 for the offence of disclosing the personal data.  She was also required to pay prosecution costs and a victim surcharge.

I can provide advice and assistance on a wide range of information law matters.  If you wish to discuss an information law matter with me then you can contact me on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the form on the contact page of this blog.  Alternatively, you can send me an E-mail directly.

Alistair Sloan

Welcome to the Information Law Blog by Inksters Solicitors

Welcome to the Information Law Blog from Inksters Solicitors.  On this blog we will be covering the latest issues in the areas of Data Protection/Privacy and also Freedom of Information.  Most of the contributions to this blog will be by Alistair Sloan, although there may be contributions from other members of the Inksters team from time to time.

Alistair is one our solicitors based in our Glasgow HQ; he offers legal services throughout Scotland in the field of information law, among others.   Alistair regulalry travels around Scotland and in particular visits our Caithness base in Wick on a frequent basis.  Alistair has been involved in the fields of freedom of information and data protection for a number of years, including prior to qualifying as a solicitor, and has built up a knowledge base on both areas throughout that time.  While studying for his Master of Laws degree, he researched the Information Commissioner’s use of Monetary Penalty Notices for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The area of information law is constantly developing.  The biggest change on the horizon is the General Data Protection Regulation, which will be applicable in the UK (and across the rest of the European Union) from 25 May 2018.  This new Regulation from the European Union represents the single biggest change to the laws relating to data protection and privacy in the UK in more than 20 years.

Much of the field of Information law is governed by EU law in one way or another, whether it be data protection or access to environmental information held by public authorities; therefore, the hot political subject of Brexit will feature heavily in the information law field over the coming years.

We’re not new to the world of information law; in 2016 our Sylvia MacLennan acted for the successful Petitioner in WF v Scottish Ministers.  This case challenged the position in Scotland where an accused person could seek access to the medical records of a complainer in a criminal case, but that the complainer was said not to have any standing to make representations directly to the court (including through their own solicitor) on the question of whether their medical records should be disclosed to the accused.  It also challenged the lack of availability of legal aid in Scotland to complainers concerning such issues.

We hope that this blog will become a useful resource for individuals to find out about the latest developments in the field of information law.  To keep up to date with this blog and what we are doing you can follow Alistair on twitter here; we also have a dedicated information law twitter account, which you can follow as well.

If you want to discuss an information law matter with Alistair you contact him on 0345 450 0123 or by completing the form on the contact page of this blog.  Alternatively, you can send him an E-mail directly.