Law will enable firms to play at Big Brother

Employers have won the fight to monitor staff e-mails and telephone calls under new government rules – but have been warned to inform staff first.

In a coup for business, the Government accepted that employers need to access e-mail messages and telephone calls for a range of legitimate business reasons.

From 24 October they will be able to intercept communications without permission from staff as long as they have a good reason and staff know it is likely to happen.

Employers welcomed the news, saying it will help them protect the interests of business and staff. “It means we can monitor traffic to make sure systems are not being used to harass or transmit illicit or illegal material,” said Steve Field, head of employment services at KPMG.

But lawyers warned employers not to ignore the requirement to inform staff their calls and e-mails could be intercepted, brought in under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Marcus Rowland, solicitor at Kemp and Co, said staff who have not been warned could claim a breach of their right to privacy under the Human Rights Act. “You need a policy in place where you reserve the right to monitor e-mails and you have to be proactive about publicising it,” he said.

Concerns have been raised over possible conflicts with the Human Rights Act and it is unclear how the Data Protection Act, introduced in March, fits in.

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