A divorced father-of-two won the right to read his children's WhatsApp messages, in a court ruling that sets a precedent favouring parental responsibility over privacy laws in Spain.

The unnamed man's ex-wife had sued him for breaching their children's privacy after he read their daughter's WhatsApp conversations.

But a court in the northern Spanish city of Pontevedra upheld his actions on Boxing Day (26 December), saying that the use of social networks by minors "requires attention and vigilance of the parents".

The unnamed mother told Spanish daily El Español: "Both my kids told me that their father took them to their bedrooms and went over my daughter's conversations with them."

The court heard the father had read his nine-year-old daughter's messages in her presence. However, when the father asked his son for his WhatsApp password, he refused. Reports did not give the son's age.

Earlier, a lower court in the region agreed with the mother that her former husband's actions breached their children's right to privacy. This offence carries a sentence of up to four years in prison as well as a fine.

Judges in the higher Pontevedra court acknowledged there was a clash in this area between privacy and the duty of guardians. But the court ruled that ultimately both parents had a greater right "to watch over" their children.

The court added: "The development of social networks, as well as WhatsApp, requires attention and vigilance of the parents to preserve the indemnity of minors."

The mother was ordered by the court to pay all legal costs of the case.