Feeds

Privacy in the workplace is a 'myth'

Email surveillance ruling fails to resolve muddle

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

3 Big data security analytics techniques

Analysis Doubts about the effectiveness of regulations designed to safeguard privacy in the workplace have surfaced just days after the long-delayed rules were introduced.

Last week the UK Information Commissioner published a code of practice on surveillance in the workplace. This requires companies to inform employees if they are monitoring phone calls, emails and Internet use. The Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said the guidelines try to balance the needs of employers with the rights of employees.

However, critics say the Employment Practices Data Protection Code, more than two years in development, is still too vague.

Dai Davis, an IT lawyer at Nabarro Nathanson, said the regulations fail to provide clear guidance. This is unsurprising, he notes, because the rules deal with issues touched by the very different requiremnet anti-terror, data protection, human rights laws and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

"The regulations are very late and still unsatisfactory," Davis said. "What the Information Protection Commissioner says is not law, just guidance. The Commissioner is only the policeman trying to interpret very complex offences. It will be ultimately up to European courts to decide where the law stands."

According to early reports, businesses which fail to comply with the new code of practice could be taken to court by disgruntled employees. But Davis argues that this is expensive and unlikely to happen. For the same reason, the Commissioner is unlikely to use the law as a tool against firms which fail to implement the code.

Jamie Cowper, a technology consultant at messaging specialist Mirapoint, warns that employees should be under no illusion that the code guarantees email privacy.

"Essentially, any communication that goes over a company's network is the property of that organisation. It is the organisation that is ultimately liable for even accidental security breaches, so unnecessary risks should be protected against," he said.

Currently, many firms monitor their employee's online activities, in order to guard against spam, viruses or the circulation of inappropriate material within offices. This level of monitoring can still to be justified, according to Mirapoint, providing that companies define a clear email policy and communicate it to employees.

Employee management firm Websense supports the call for a clear, written policy as the foundation of a firm's monitoring practices. However, this remains a vexed legal and ethical issue, according to chief technology officer Harold Kester. "Whenever you have monitoring there is a risk of abuse. This has to do with managing employees' expectations of privacy," he said. ®

Related Stories

Big Bother for Big Brother firms
Email snooping code of practice delayed
IT workers expect Big Brother-style snooping at work
TUC gets arsey about RIP email laws

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
It may be ILLEGAL to run Heartbleed health checks – IT lawyer
Do the right thing, earn up to 10 years in clink
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.