If you work in Europe, your privacy at the workplace might depend on the upcoming ruling of the the European Court of Human Rights in the Barbulescu case. Barnulescu was a Romanian engineer fired in 2007 for chatting online with his fiancée at work. Due to be issued this year, the ruling will define the meaning of privacy at work for employees in the 47 countries that have ratified the European Convention of Human Rights.
In the decade since Barbulescu was fired, the pace of technological change has accelerated. Today, the technologies used to supervise employees at work include not only software for monitoring computers, phones and emails of the employees but also cameras, microphones, biometric devices, and GPS receivers. As the digitisation of work advances, the social and legal norms about privacy and surveillance at workplace are still in flux. And the national, European and international laws are slow to adapt to these technological changes.
As the challenges of workplace surveillance become more apparent, it is clear that the patchwork legislation does not adequately meet the needs of European workers who do not want to completely forgo their privacy at work. The current legal and political framework favors corporate interests, undermines the right to privacy, and perpetuates gender inequality and other forms of discrimination. We need to explore the impact of technology on power relations at work to ensure that workers' rights are adequately protected in the digital age.