Case of European Court of Human Rights, April 03, 2007 (case Copland v. the United Kingdom)

Resolution DateApril 03, 2007

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 96

April 2007

Copland v. the United Kingdom - 62617/00

Judgment 3.4.2007 [Section IV]

Article 8

Article 8-1

Respect for correspondence

Respect for private life

Monitoring of a State employee’s telephone, e-mail and internet usage without a statutory basis: violation

Facts: The applicant was employed by a college of further education, a statutory body administered by the State, as a personal assistant to the principal. From the end of 1995 she was required to work closely with the deputy principal. Her telephone, e-mail and internet usage were subjected to monitoring at the deputy principal’s instigation. According to the Government, this was in order to ascertain whether the applicant was making excessive use of college facilities for personal purposes. The monitoring of her telephone usage consisted of analysis of the college telephone bills showing telephone numbers called, the dates and times of the calls and their length and cost; the monitoring of her internet usage took the form of analysing the web sites visited, and the times, dates and durations of the visits; and the monitoring of her e-mails took the form of analysis of e-mail addresses and dates and times at which e-mails were sent. The college did not have a policy on monitoring at the material time. Nor there was any general right to privacy in English law although legislation was subsequently introduced providing for the regulation of the interception of communications and the circumstances in which employers could record or monitor employees’ communications without their consent.

Law: The College was a public body for whose acts the Government were responsible for Convention purposes. The question therefore related to the State’s negative obligation not to interfere with the applicant’s private life and correspondence.

Scope of private life – Telephone calls from business premises were prima facie covered by the notions of “private life” and “correspondence”. It followed logically that e-mails sent from work should be similarly protected, as should information derived from the monitoring of personal internet usage. The applicant had been given no warning that her calls would be liable to monitoring and therefore had a reasonable expectation as to the privacy of calls made from her work telephone. The same expectation...

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