The Italian Supreme Court has found the Zecca dello Stato (The State Institute of Printing and Minting) guilty of monitoring its employees’ web surfing data, emails and phone calls, in violation of a number of provisions of the Statuto dei Lavoratori (Workers’ Statute of Rights, L. 300 of 1970).
With its decision of the 19th September 2016, n. 18302, the Court of Cassation established the illegality of the storage activity on the company server of employees’ emails, phone calls and web surfing data without prior application of the authorization procedure provided for by the Workers’ Statute of Rights and the Code for the protection of personal data.
The facts of the case on which the decision is based are as follows: in 2011 the Italian Data Protection Supervisor had emphasized with a disciplinary provision, that the Internet service provided by the Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato (The State Institute of Printing and Minting) for its own employees not only prevented access to websites not inherent to work activity, but also stored every access, or attempt to access, any website, thus allowing the reconstruction of every single worker’s web browsing activity. In addition, the employees’ web surfing data were stored on the system for a length of time varying anywhere from six months to a year.
The Supervisor had also noticed the illegality of the storage system of employees’ sent and received emails on the company’s server, which allowed full view of them to the system administrators without any specific information on privacy having been provided in regard to the matter.
It had also been pointed out that the State Institute of Printing and Minting implemented a method of telephone traffic monitoring through the VoIP system which also in this case allowed the recording and prolonged storage of traffic data without providing any adequate privacy information for its employees.
Therefore, the Supervisor had considered that the activity of the State Institute of Printing and Minting violated L. n. 300 of 1970, arts. 4 and 8 of the Workers’ Statute of Rights as it made possible the disclosure of employees’ sensitive data without having acquired their prior consent (and consequently also in violation of arts. 11, 113 and 114 of the Code for the Protection of Personal Data). Therefore the provision prohibited the State Institute of Printing and Minting from storing and categorizing employees web surfing data in addition to their emails and phone calls, obliging the Institute to inform those involved about the ways in which their personal data were processed. The Supervisor had also required that the identities of the system administrators with authorization to access the company’s databases should be made public (and therefore known to the company’s employees) and that there should be the guarantee of all accesses made by the administrators being revealed in full.
In 2011 the Court of Rome rejected the appeal by the State Institute of Printing and Minting against the Supervisor’s provision, clarifying that, as provided for by art. 4 of the Workers’ Statute of Rights, employers are only allowed to use monitoring systems for requirements of organisation and production in agreement with the trade unions or in compliance with legal obligations, whereas the use of such systems is prohibited if it is carried out for monitoring the activity of employees. With reference to other previous decisions, the Court pointed out that the necessity to protect the company (and its activity) cannot legitimise suppressing fundamental employee rights such as the right to privacy.
Consequently, the State Institute of Printing and Minting appealed against the decision to the Supreme Court, maintaining that those controls not directed at work activities but rather at other employee conduct in the workplace, which might expose the business assets of the company to serious danger and which might be potentially harmful for third parties, with consequent liability on the part of the employer, fall entirely outside the scope of application of the provisions of the Workers’ Statute of Rights. This risk is all the more significant in that the Institute carries out public interest activities such as the printing of the Gazzetta Ufficiale (Italian Official Journal) and of the Raccolta ufficiale degli atti normativi della Repubblica italiana (the Official Compendium of Legislative Acts of the Italian Republic), the production of personal identification documents, security and anti-counterfeiting systems, legal tender and so on.
However the Court of Cassation considered that the significance of the public role entrusted to the State Institute of Printing and Minting does not justify violation of the current legislation, which aims to protect guarantees for constitutionally recognised workers’ rights. To this effect, the Judge emphasised the second paragraph of art. 4, which provides that monitoring systems required for organizational reasons or for safety in the workplace, but which also allow the distance monitoring of employee activity, may only be installed with the prior agreement of company trade union representatives or, in their absence, of the shop stewards’ committee. In the absence of an agreement and at the request of the employer, the Ispettorato del lavoro (the Labour Inspectorate) mediates, setting out where necessary the procedure for the use of such systems.
Therefore, rejecting the appeal and confirming the observations of the Court of Rome’s decision, the Court of Cassation underlined the necessity to strike a balance between the employer’s rights, in particular the right to conduct business and to protect the company’s business assets, and the protection of worker rights, first and foremost the right to privacy.