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Australian state moves to stop employer e-mail spying

Reuters | May 4, 2005

SYDNEY - Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, moved on Wednesday to outlaw employers from snooping on workers' private e-mails as part of anti-spying legislation aimed at stopping bosses from covertly observing employees.

In an Australian first, the New South Wales state government introduced surveillance legislation to outlaw unauthorised spying on employees using technologies including e-mail, video cameras and tracking devices.

"We don't tolerate employers unlawfully placing cameras in change rooms and toilets," Attorney General Bob Debus said in a statement. "Likewise we should not tolerate unscrupulous employers snooping into the private e-mails of workers."

Australia has national privacy laws but they do not cover e-mail monitoring.

The legislation is expected to be passed by next week, the minister's spokesman said. Penalties would include a A$5,500 fine (2,252 pound) for individuals, or A$5,500 for each director of a corporation.

Trade unions welcomed the move as a victory against "big brother" monitoring by employers, which they said has been on the rise.

"The e-mail is the modern version of the telephone and I think that most employees would reasonably say that their phones shouldn't be tapped at work automatically, and I think that should apply to the Internet," said Bill Shorten, secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU).

Australia, which has 20 million people, has one of the world's highest rates of Internet usage.


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