The German Federal Labour Court has ruled that companies can't install keyloggers to monitor employees because such an action violates personal privacy rights.

The court ruled on this matter in a lawsuit filed by a web developer against a media agency located in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state.

Company fires programmer based on keylogger data

The developer had worked for the company for four years, but he was fired in April 2015, a month after the company installed keylogging software on employees' devices without prior notification. Besides tracking key presses, the software also took screenshots of the users' screen at regular intervals.

The company fired the employee because he used his work computer to write code for a computer game for another company. The firm argued it was against company rules to use work computers for personal matters and fired the employee without notice on the same day.

In a lawsuit he soon filed after his abrupt dismissal, the developer said he only spent a total of three hours working on the game. All work was done during his lunch breaks, ten minutes per day. The game was intended for his father's gaming company.

The developer said he knew the company was tracking Internet traffic, but not about logging keystrokes. The developer also argued that the information surrounding his firing was gathered illegally via the usage of a keylogger and had intruded on his right to a private life by exposing personal communications, passwords, and others.

Judge rules that employee monitoring via keyloggers is illegal

The judge agreed with the developer's argument, ruling that keylogging software is taking employee surveillance one step too far, albeit he did say that companies are allowed to deploy such software when they have a good reason to believe employees are breaking the law.

Nonetheless, the judge said keyloggers should not be used to track employees and resolve work disputes. The judge also ruled that the developer's firing was now void.

In the past four years, companies that sell surveillance software have argued that using keyloggers was a legally acceptable practice [1, 2, 3].

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