Parents should check children’s WhatsApp chats, Spanish court rules

A Spanish court has cleared a divorced father accused of breaching his daughter’s right to privacy after he read WhatsApp messages between the nine-year-old girl and her mother.

The child’s mother had sued her former partner but the judge decided that parents’ legal responsibility to monitor their children’s use of the internet outweighed any invasion of privacy in a ruling that could set a precedent in cases of underage social media use.

“Both my kids told me that their father took them to their bedrooms and went over my daughter’s conversations”, the Spanish news website El Español quoted the mother as telling the court. “He asked my son for his phone’s password too but he refused."

Despite the woman’s claims that her ex-husband’s actions constituted a breach of Spanish privacy laws, the judge said that there was a legal clash with the country’s civil code, under which parents are obliged to look out for their children’s best interests and provide them with adequate know-how to get along in society.

“The use of social media, such as WhatsApp, requires attention and vigilance on the part of parents or carers in order to safeguard the well-being of minors”, Judge María del Rosario Cimadevila Cea ruled.

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The court heard that the man had received permission from his daughter to read her Whatsapp chats together, proving that there was no intent to “discover secrets or infringe on the person’s privacy without permission”.

The judge ordered the mother to pay legal costs.

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The ruling is the latest in a line of judgments by Spanish courts on the appropriate use of WhatsApp-style chat apps, or otherwise.

Last year a judge in Tui, Galicia, found a woman guilty of slander merely for phrases she used in frequent changes to her WhatsApp status that were in fact veiled references to her former partner and his new lover.

In 2012 Catalonia’s top court upheld the dismissal of a kindergarten principal based on her participation in a WhatsApp chat group in which several members of staff commented on the size of a child’s penis.

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