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Lawyers raise fears over AltaVista's search engine

Data protection at stake

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Lawyers have warned that companies using AltaVista's new search engine technology are at risk of breaching data protection laws.

Launched last week, AltaVista's new software lets people search entire corporate networks allowing employees to access all network folders, personal computers and emails.

Announcing the launch, Phil Rugani, executive VP of AltaVista's Search Software division said: "Wherever data resides, whether it is structured or unstructured, AltaVista's software architecture provides a single, universal view to create efficiencies and more intelligent decision making throughout an organisation."

And therein lies the problem.

Lawyers are warning that the search facility could be too intrusive. Unless these are protected in some way, it could allow others to pry into personal records and emails.

E-commerce solicitor Joanne Ashley of Sprecher Grier Halberstam, said: "Companies using this tool are going to have to ring-fence human resources data and consider how to address the issue of the search tool not discriminating between work and personal emails and information.

"If employee personal data is released companies could find themselves in breach of the Data Protection Act. For this reason I advise companies to make sure they have appropriate email and Internet use policies in place and to get advice on monitoring employee communications before buying this software," she said.

She also warned that strategic and board-level confidential information could also be at risk unless protected.

On Friday, The Register asked AltaVista to comment on the story. We were told no one was available but assured someone would be available first thing Monday morning.

No one from AltaVista was available for comment this morning either. ®

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