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Private messages sent by employers while at work can now legally be read by employers, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.

Bogdan Barbulescu, a Romanian engineer, took his case to the European court after losing it in Romania. He argued that his privacy was breached when his employer looked at private messages sent from Yahoo Messenger.

But Mr Barbulescu used his work email address to talk to personal and professional contacts. The employer had also banned staff from sending personal messages.

The judges ruled that because he was using a work account, his employers had a right to monitor look at the conversation logs, and that it was not "unreasonable that an employer would want to verify that employees were completing their professional tasks during working hours".

He judges said: "The employer acted within its disciplinary powers since, as the domestic courts found, it had accessed the Yahoo Messenger account on the assumption that the information in question had been related to professional activities and that such access had therefore been legitimate. The court sees no reason to question these findings."

However, one of the eight judges involved in the case disagreed with the ruling, saying it was unacceptable to introduce a 'blanket ban' on personal internet use. The remaining seven judges agreed that the employer had a right to monitor Mr Barbulescu's activity because he used a work account, regardless or whether or not he may have used a second, personal device.