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The Government has abandoned "impractical" plans to force companies to seek permission from their staff to monitor email and phone usage at work.

From 24 October, companies will be permitted "routine access" to any business emails and phone calls to see if they are business-related, the FT reports.

Trade unions are up in arms - bosses will have blanket snooping rights over staff, they argue. This breaches rights to privacy provisions contained in the new Human Rights Act, which came into force this week, they say. A court case beckons.

Patricia Hewitt, ecommerce minister, rejects union fears. Businesses will have to operate within "limits they must not go over, such as intercepting personal calls for unjustified scurrilous interest,' she told the FT.

But don't think you can avoid your employer's prying eyes by using Web-based email such as Hotmail or AOL at your workplace. Your bosses can read these too, as this CNet article, Web-based email services offer employees little privacy, makes clear. ®

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