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Employee email monitoring saga continues

Yea, says government; nah, says data protection commissioner

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The government's new rules on employers being allowed to monitor their staff's email have been contradicted by the Data Protection Commissioner Elizabeth France, who intends to produce a Code of Practice condemning it.

The government said last week that employers would be allowed "routine access" to personal email and phone calls made by staff. The announcement - due to come into force later this month - caused an outcry by civil liberties groups and trade unions. And yet more court cases based on the Human Rights Act that has just become law are expected.

Patricia Hewitt, ecommerce minister, said people were making a fuss about nothing, saying that businesses would still have to operate within "limits they must not go over, such as intercepting personal calls for unjustified scurrilous interest". Lizzy France is having none of it. Good lass.

She says that routine monitoring of staff is likely to go too far and should be used only as a last resort. She also feels that emails that are "clearly personal" should never be opened and all staff should be made aware that monitoring is going on. Covert monitoring should only be used in order to detect or prevent a crime.

We're obliged to agree with her. Employers do have a right to know what staff are doing during work hours but only in the broad sense. Monitoring someone the company suspects of illegal or commercially harmful activity is also understandable, but should it be a legally enshrined right? No, it shouldn't. If companies want to own your soul as well, they have an opt-in clause. An extra 10 per cent on your salary if you submit to the will of your employer (you sell yourself too cheap, Kieren - Ed). Let's hear it for the numbers. ®

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