The European Court of Human Rights Thursday ruled that a French employer had not violated its employee’s right to privacy for firing him after it found incriminating material on his work computer.
Eric Libert, who worked as director of a regional surveillance unit for France’s state-owned rail operator SNCF, was fired in 2008 after the company searched his work computer’s hard drive and found a large number of files containing pornographic content and forged certificates drawn up for third parties.
The man complained that his employer had violated his “right to respect for private and family life” by opening personal files stored on his work computer in his absence.
The local courts, which ruled that the decision to dismiss Libert was justified, had “properly assessed the applicant’s allegations of a violation of his right to respect for his private life,” the European court said in a statement.
The court confirmed that French employers are not entitled to open “files identified as being personal” in the absence of the employee, but stated that this did not apply in Libert’s case, as the files at issue “had not been duly identified as being private.”
The court also found that by searching Libert’s computer, SNCF “had pursued a legitimate aim of protecting the rights of employers, who might legitimately wish to ensure that their employees were using the computer facilities which they had placed at their disposal in line with their contractual obligations and the applicable regulations.”