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Ford has offered British staff a two-week amnesty to remove pornographic e-mails or other questionable material from their PCs. After this, Ford will carry out random spot-checks on employee email.

Ford has made its policy absolutely clear to workers, a necessary step in avoiding any legal implications.

Stuart Morrice, marketing director at Peapod Groups's, a UK security consultancy, said: "Firms can't just go at people's email without telling them. They need to first put a policy in place, which needs to be managed by human resources departments - not techies alone."

Firms can't be sure of their legal exposure, unless they audit their email, he added.

Companies commonly implement content management technology (such as MIMEsweeper) to reduce the risk of disseminating pornographic content, racist material or email which might fall foul of the law. Peapod reckons this technology is often set up poorly and left in default configurations, so failing to match company policies on email use (assuming firms are clued up enough to have a policy).

Balancing the rights of individuals under the Human Rights Act and Data Protection Act (DPA) with the needs of business is like "walking through a minefield". Peapod warns that without a proper policy firms risk falling foul of the DPA and tripping up over other laws in the area, such as the Privacy Act and the Right of Telecoms Act. ®

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