Press Release No: Individual Application 10/21

Press Release concerning the Judgment Finding No Violations of the Right to the Protection of Personal Data and the Freedom of Communication due to the Monitoring of the Applicant’s Corporate E-mail Account by the Employer

On 12 January 2021, the First Section of the Constitutional Court found no violations of the right to the protection of personal data under the right to respect for private life safeguarded by Article 20 of the Constitution, and of the freedom of communication safeguarded by Article 22 thereof in the individual application lodged by Celal Oraj Altunörgü (no. 2018/31036).

The Facts

In the employment contract of the applicant holding office in a private bank (“the bank” or “the employer”), it is envisaged that the corporate e-mail account assigned to him shall be used only for professional purposes; and that the e-mail account may be monitored by the bank management without any prior notice. On the allegation that the applicant was working in a workplace registered in the name of his wife, an inspector was appointed by the bank to conduct an inspection, and the applicant’s defence submission was taken in this respect. In his report, the inspector concluded that the applicant had been engaged in commercial activities through his corporate e-mail account in breach of the working principles and procedures of the bank. The applicant’s employment contract was terminated by the bank on the basis of this report, which also indicated that he had used the corporate e-mail account also for his wife’s commercial activities. The applicant unsuccessfully brought a declaratory action, seeking for his reinstatement, against the employer before the incumbent labour court. His subsequent appeal was also dismissed, with final effect, by the Regional Court of Appeal.

The Applicant’s Allegations

The applicant maintained that his right to the protection of personal data under the right to respect for private life, as well as his freedom of communication had been violated due to monitoring of his corporate e-mail account by the employer and the termination of his employment contract based on these correspondences.

The Court’s Assessment

In the present case, the corporate e-mail account assigned to the applicant was monitored by the employer. It appears that the assignment of corporate e-mail accounts, by the employer, to the employees, thereby processing personal data and monitoring the flow of communication through these accounts are intended to ensure the effective conduct of the works. Thus, the assignment of corporate e-mail accounts to the employees in a way that would allow for access to the flow of communication via these accounts and the contents thereof is a method suitable for attaining the aim pursued by the employer.  

In cases where there is no prior clear notice that the correspondences exchanged through the corporate e-mail accounts may be monitored, it is also foreseeable by the employer that the employee may exchange personal correspondences through their corporate e-mail accounts. In case of an explicit notice in this regard, the corporate e-mail account may be monitored without the consent of the employee. In this sense, if no challenge has been raised, following the prior notice, with respect to the employer’s authority to monitor the e-mail accounts, it must be acknowledged that the given employee has given consent to the monitoring process and that unless otherwise demonstrated, this consent would prevail.

In the present case, the applicant maintained that his corporate e-mail account had been monitored without a prior notice and his consent. In the employment contract, it is, however, stated that the corporate e-mail account assigned to him shall be used only for professional purposes and that his account might be monitored by the bank management without any notice. It is also explicitly noted in the employment contract that any breach of the obligations specified therein may give rise to the termination of the employment contract.

However, the extent of the interference by the employer must also be discussed. In this sense, it has been observed that the employer monitored and examined the applicant’s e-mails, which were in support of the allegation that he had been engaged in another profession, and used these e-mails merely for substantiating its claims during the proceedings. It has been accordingly considered that the employer conducted the monitoring process, and used the acquired data, in accordance with the intended purpose.

Besides, during the proceedings before it, the incumbent court reached a conclusion, taking into consideration the witness statements, the employment contract, the file submitted by the bank and the other documents appended to the case-file, and provided relevant and sufficient grounds in its decision. The applicant could also effectively participate in the proceedings, and the inferior courts adjudicating the dispute in question fulfilled their respective obligations during the proceedings.

Consequently, the Court has found no violations of the right to the protection of personal data and the freedom of communication.

This press release prepared by the General Secretariat intends to inform the public and has no binding effect.