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The DTI has given the British public until the end of the month to submit comments on the Government's plans to let bosses read staff emails without consent.

While MPs are making the most of their summer recess and swanning off on holiday or honeymoon, employers, trade associations, charities and individuals have been given three-and-a-half weeks to complete a DTI questionnaire on this controversial part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act.

The DTI consultation paper was launched on 1 August in relation to draft regulations on the RIP Act - which received Royal Assent on 28 July. The deadline for voluntary responses and comments to the paper is 25 August.

The paper involves a less-publicised part of RIP. The Government proposes to make "Lawful Business Practice" Regulations under Section 4(2) of RIP - these will set out the circumstances in which bosses can legally read employees' emails.

According to RIP, businesses must have "reasonable grounds for believing that correspondents have consented to the interception". However, there are quite wide-ranging exceptions to the rule, outlined in the consultation paper, where bosses will be free to intercept emails without consent.

These include:

  • Providing evidence of a commercial transaction.
  • Providing evidence of other business communications to establish facts or ascertain compliance with regulatory practices or procedures.</<li>
  • Audits.
  • Debt recovery.
  • And the more worrying "dispute resolution".

Management will also be able to nose around email correspondence in the interests of "preventing or detecting crime", such as protecting a network against viruses or hackers or when investigating fraud or corruption.

A DTI representative said it had contacted more than 1300 interested parties about the paper, which is available on the DTI Website.

When asked if three and a half weeks was long enough for the British public to air their views on the proposals, especially as it is mid-holiday season and many people will not be at work, the representative answered: "We regret that the response period is limited to this period of time."

She added the time allotted had also been limited due to delays in developing the draft regulations and the fact that RIP got rushed through Parliament very quickly.

According to the DTI, the Secretary of State will make the new regulations in September following comments on the consultation paper, and the RIP Act and regulations will come into force in October. ®

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