BBC NEWS
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: Technology  
News Front Page
World
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Education
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
CBBC News
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 18 November, 2002, 08:44 GMT
Tighter rules on workplace snooping
Office workers, BBC
Use of e-mail in the workplace is widespread

Workers look set to regain some of their right to privacy at work as rules governing the monitoring of e-mail messages and web use are tightened up.

The UK's privacy watchdog is producing stringent codes of practice governing how much scrutiny companies can carry out on private communications.

The Information Commissioner warns that companies that do not follow the letter of these rules risk prosecution under the Data Protection Act.

Legal experts say that companies flouting the regulations could find themselves in trouble if sackings for e-mail or web abuse end up in a tribunal.

Conflict of duty

E-mail and net access are now key to day-to-day running of many businesses.

Many companies are monitoring what staff do with them to filter out viruses, spam and to monitor customer service.


Companies need to target monitoring and tell people they are doing it

Spokesman for the Information Commissioner
Financial service companies tend to monitor staff communication to help them comply with industry regulations.

But the Information Commissioner is warning that companies cannot trample over rights to privacy or ignore data protection rules when monitoring e-mail and net use.

The Commissioner is revising the codes of practice covering monitoring to keep companies in line and to ensure they do not abuse the access they have to e-mail messages.


"It's an attempt to give employers an idea how they can comply with the data protection act," said a spokesman for the Information Commissioner.

"There are companies that have not done much with regard to their legal requirements," said the spokesman, "Under the Data Protection Act they may have a lot of work to do."

Legal protection

The monitoring of employee communications is covered by two laws.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act gives basic guidelines on when monitoring can be carried out, but the Data Protection Act details the tests that must be passed for monitoring to be lawful.


We are bound to see this coming up in tribunals

Adam Edwards, Solicitor
Data protection laws are being redrafted in light of European laws and this significantly changes when monitoring can be carried out and what can be done with any information gathered.

A draft code of practice being drawn up by the Information Commissioner will tell companies exactly what they must do to comply with data protection laws.

The spokesman said that companies can no longer get away with pinning a policy document on a notice board and hoping staff read it.

"The data protection act is quite comprehensive," he said. "Companies need to target monitoring and tell people they are doing it."

"It should be a living policy that people are regularly reminded of," he said.

Camera shy

The draft code of practice on monitoring at work warns that the tests, checklists and benchmarks within it will be used to determine it companies are complying with data protection laws.

Internal envelope, Eyewire
Bosses cannot open every internal message
Already in France a case has established that employers do not have the right to open any of their employees' messages.

In early October the French Supreme Court ruled in a case between Nikon and a former employee that the company had no automatic right to search through an e-mail inbox.

The court made its decision under the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantee a right to privacy in communication.

Adam Edwards, a partner at law firm Cumberland Ellis Piers, said the tightened up laws on monitoring could trip up many companies.

"We are bound to see this coming up in tribunals," said Mr Edwards.

"The vast majority of tribunal chairmen are probably not particularly well equipped to deal with these arguments," he said.

"Companies are going to have to demonstrate that they have a working policy."


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Who's looking?
Is your boss monitoring your e-mails?
See also:

22 Oct 02 | Technology
04 Sep 02 | Technology
05 Aug 02 | dot life
24 Oct 01 | Business
12 Feb 02 | Working Lunch
16 Nov 01 | England
05 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
01 Nov 02 | Technology
Links to more Technology stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Technology stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes