If nothing else, the latest rules on data protection at work might at least
give you a laugh – albeit a very hollow one.
The rules are explained in a proposed code on monitoring staff produced by
the Information Commission, the body charged with telling companies what the
Data Protection Act requires them to do in practice.
The Information Commission should be renamed the Confusion Commission.
In October 2000, it produced the original draft of its code of practice for
employers. HR professionals and employers’ groups responded by saying it was
draconian and completely confusing.
To cut a long story short, the commission is currently producing the final
code in dribs and drabs and last week published its proposed rules on staff
It seems hard to believe, but the commission has actually managed to add
some extra confusing bits to its guidance. And some of the new rules are
For example, the code makes a distinction between private e-mails and
personal e-mails. An employer is not allowed to open personal e-mails unless
there is evidence an employee is breaking the law or seriously breaching
company policy. However, you are allowed to open ‘private’ e-mails as long
as… wait for it… you don’t read any of the personal bits.
Well here is an e-mail from us to Elizabeth France, the Information
"Dear Liz, I’m afraid that your code is complete nonsense. Apart
from the confusion over private e-mails, it seems absurd that employers cannot
open e-mails sent on their own business systems. Surely if a member of staff
has a private message to send they should do so using their own personally
Love and kisses, Personnel Today.
P.S. To the boss: that last bit was personal and if you read it we’ll see
you in court."
End the confusion: send your response to www.dataprotection.gov.uk