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Email monitoring could breach human rights

Lisa Kelly, Computing | July 18 2006

Nearly half of UK organisations risk breaching human rights legislation by monitoring employee emails without following proper policies.

Up to 44 per cent of large UK companies are potentially breaching a range of laws governing email monitoring, including the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and the Telecommunications Regulations 2000 because they monitor emails without explaining their reasons to staff, according to research from Proofpoint.

The messaging security provider says 38 per cent of companies employ a ‘corporate snoop’ to read employee email and over 60 per cent perform regular audits of outbound email.

However, only about half of UK companies have an adequate email policy that they communicate to their staff.

Although 81 per cent of companies say they have a simple or detailed written acceptable usage policy for email, only 56 per cent provide formal training for employees about email security policies, and only a third conduct formal training about external regulations that apply to the organisation’s use of email.

The findings show, however, that email policies are taken seriously by UK companies as more than one in three has sacked a worker for violation.

Mark Hughes, Proofpoint’s managing director for Europe, said: ‘It is legitimate for a company to monitor outbound email but clandestine Big Brother voyeurism is illegal. If you don’t make your staff fully aware of how and why you monitor their messages, you are snooping on them.'

'About 44 per cent of companies my be a risk because they are simply mot doing a good enough job of telling their employees about their email policies,' he said.

Nick Tsatsas, partner at Michael Simkins LLP, points out that even if companies have a legitimate business need to monitor email and internet usage, they must tell staff how, when and why it takes place.

‘It is essential for employers that wish to monitor staff email to have a considered and consistently followed email policy,’ he said.

 

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