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[ISN] (UK) Employers gain e-snoop powers
From: Emerson (nutterTECHNOLOGIST.COM)
Date: Tue Oct 24 2000 - 13:11:30 CDT
Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 01:12 GMT 02:12 UK
Employers gain e-snoop powers
Workers may find their surfing habits under scrutiny
New regulations giving employers sweeping powers to monitor their workers'
e-mails and internet activity come into force on Tuesday.
But campaigners say the rules, under the new Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act, are an assault on personal privacy.
Under the regulations, employers can legally monitor staff phone calls,
e-mails and internet activity without consent, for a wide range of reasons.
If I need to discipline someone, I need to know all the facts
- Steve Donovan, Armstrong Communications
They can intercept communications to protect against computer viruses, to
monitor how staff deal with customers, and to ensure workers are not using
the internet to access offensive material.
When the government first proposed new regulations, the business community
complained that they were far too restrictive.
After fierce lobbying, employers were given wider powers, and the unions
warned that privacy was under threat.
Today is a bleak day for privacy in Britain
Simon Davies, Privacy International
There is also concern that the rules conflict with a new Data Protection
Code, which threatens employers with unlimited fines if they read private
Monitoring staff is not new. Until the advent of automated telephone
systems, company switchboard operators would often check on the first few
moments of a phone conversation.
But modern communications systems mean information is streaming in and out
of businesses at the click of a mouse.
Software, which can help bosses keep an eye on it all, is now a
multi-million pound industry.
Steve Donovan, a director of Armstrong Communications in Salford, can use
one such application to monitor what each of his 20 staff is doing on the
His staff can be online quite legitimately for several hours a day.
They all know that their boss keeps an eye on their internet traffic and
e-mail - and that he is happy for them to use the net occasionally for
Right to privacy
Mr Donovan says he has to know what is happening online to protect his
"Do I spend 90 percent of my time looking at my PC, checking up on my
staff? No, I'm too busy," he told the BBC.
"But if I wish to know if I've got a problem with a member of my staff, it
means I can go back and check what they were doing online.
"If I need to discipline someone, I need to know all the facts if I'm going
to do it competently."
The government has said the new regulations are aimed at allowing
businesses to get the most out of the new communications technology.
But many campaigners believe they directly contravene the Human Rights and
Data Protection Acts, which state individuals have a right to privacy at
Draft guidelines issued by the Data Protection Commissioner also question
whether blanket monitoring can be justified, and stress that employees have
a right to work without constantly being monitored.
Privacy campaigners like Simon Davies of Privacy International have said
confusion over these issues could lead employers to behave illegally, and
that the government's stance is wrong.
"Today is a bleak day for privacy in Britain," he said. "It signals that
rather than moving forward to establish human dignity and autonomy, we're
actually creating more systems of control.
"I think it's very important that people recognise that, and that employees
make sure they use whatever mechanisms they've got to protect what rights
they have left."
The government has said employers must strike a balance between privacy and
surveillance, but there is little doubt that unscrupulous employers could
abuse the rules.
"Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who
destroys a book, kills reason itself, kills the Image of God" - John Milton
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