Carswell wrong on snooper rights

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 25.01.2016

Douglas Carswell has misinterpreted a European Court of Human Rights ruling as giving “employers… the right to read their employees’ private messages”. UKIP’s only MP also railed against “a major change to UK law.” He is wrong on both counts.

The case involved a man who complained that his Romanian employer had violated his privacy by reading his instant messages. The ECHR ruled that there had been no breach of privacy in this instance.

But that doesn’t give employers carte blanche to access private messages. There were special factors in this case: for example, the employee denied in writing that the account in question had been used for anything other than professional purposes. Other ECHR judgments, where the circumstances are somewhat different, have upheld employees’ right to privacy.

What’s more, there is “nothing in the judgement that would prevent the UK or Romania putting in place stronger protections for personal privacy if they wanted to,” according to Michael Burd, partner at the law firm Lewis Silkin.

Carswell is also wrong to say this case changes UK law. Not only does the ruling not directly apply to Britain as it was not party to the case. Here, the law already allows employers to look at your communications provided they “made it clear that if you used company kit to communicate” they could do so, according to Burd.

The UKIP MP isn’t the only person who got the wrong end of the stick about this ECHR ruling. The Express initially said EU judges handed down the ruling. After InFacts pointed out that the ECHR was not an EU institution, the paper corrected this.

After InFacts asked Carswell to correct his piece, the MP said he hadn’t got it wrong. We hope he will think again when he has had a chance to review the evidence.

This article was previously published on 18 Jan. 2016 on hugo-dixon.com

Edited by Hugo Dixon