If your business monitors staff email and internet usage, you could be breaking the law, say legal experts following a new ruling.Lynette Copland successfully sued her employer, Carmarthenshire College in Wales, after her emails and web activities were tracked over a period of 18 months.

The European Court of Human Rights awarded more than £6,000 toher, ruling that the surveillance without her knowledge “amounted to aninterference with her right to a private life”.

The case was taken to the court in Strasbourg by Liberty on behalf ofCopland. The human rights organisation said the ruling means thatemployers will have to inform employees if their communications arebeing monitored, and that there must be a good reason for suchmonitoring. James Welch, Liberty’s legal director, said in a statement:”Employees don’t leave their personal privacy at the front door whenthey come to work each day. This judgment makes perfectly clear thatemployers who spy on their staff are infringing their privacy.”

The college had argued that monitoring was to determine whether Coplandwas using its facilities for “personal purposes”. Copland’s personalcommunications were monitored during 1998 and 1999, before theimplementation of the Human Rights Act 1998 in 2000 and the Regulationof Investigatory Powers Act 2000 enshrined the right to privacy in UKlaw.