Man loses privacy case over porn stash on his work computer

Eric Libert took the case to the European Court of Human Rights after his dismissal

A man who kept a stash of pornography on his work computer has failed to convince judges his right to a private life was infringed when his employer opened the files. File photograph: Getty Images

A man who kept a stash of pornography on his work computer has failed to convince judges his right to a private life was infringed when his employer opened the files. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A man who kept a stash of pornography on his work computer has failed to convince judges his right to a private life was infringed when his employer opened the personal files containing the material without his knowledge.

Eric Libert was fired by the French national rail operator SNCF in 2008 after his boss discovered the pornographic files and a series of forged certificates. He asked the European Court of Human Rights to rule on his case after he was unsuccessful in the French courts.

He argued that, since he had marked the files “personal”, his employer was not allowed to look in them in his absence – in accordance with French law. Libert claimed France had failed to uphold his right to a private life, provided by the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, on Thursday, judges sitting in Strasbourg said SNCF bosses had acted properly because it was not sufficiently clear the files contained material Libert considered private, and dismissed his claim.

Libert had worked for SNCF since 1958 – most recently as the deputy head of its regional surveillance unit in Amiens, in northeastern France. He was suspended from his duties in 2007 and, on his return in March the next year, he found his work machine had been seized.

He was told his bosses had found the forged certificates and a large number of files containing pornographic images and films and he was dismissed from his post that July.

On Thursday, the judges noted that French law does offer protection to employees who store private personal material on their work computers as long as it is clearly marked as such. In that case, the judges said, an employer would need to notify the staff member of their intention to look in the files or open them in their presence.

Because Libert had marked his files personal, not private, it was not clear whether or not the information in them related to his personal work details, the court said.

According to a spokesman for the court, had he marked them sufficiently clearly as private, then Libert would have been given time to put the files in order.

Libert has three months to request that the judgment be referred to the grand chamber of the court for a final ruling. If no such request is received, or if a referral request is rejected by the grand chamber, Thursday’s ruling becomes final. – Guardian service