Skip to main content
Don't Look Now

It’s a growth industry and a complete mess, snooping on staff that is. I have been writing about the subject for at least three years and it has taken that long for the government, in the shape of the Information Commissioner to draw-up a code that business can use as a reference point for their obligations under the Data Protection Act.

The UK’s Data Protection Act of 1998 is based on the earlier European directive (95/46) and embraces all personal data regardless of commercial or civil activity. The problem facing company directors and civil servants is that breaching data protection regulations represents a criminal offence and as a consequence, a criminal record for anyone who happens to be convicted of neglecting or ignoring the legislation.

Add this to the fact that companies are increasingly paranoid about inappropriate content, viruses, harassment and the risk of commercial secrets slipping out of the door and you have the beginnings of an eavesdropper’s paradise. A series of high profile cases and the industry’s enthusiasm for the sale of ‘monitoring software’, has meant that many employers have started sweeping their mail servers for dodgy content, without giving a great deal of thought to the proper handling of what be thought of as personal information; guidelines for which are, at last, contained in the new code.

The important conclusion for all employers, reflected in the code, is that intercepting employees’ correspondence can only be justified to prevent malpractice or crime and that monitoring of any kind, in the workplace, can only occur if it is transparent, in that employees understand that this is happening. In other words, the code makes monitoring an exceptional activity, carried-out with an appropriate duty of care, rather than a rule, which can be applied quite arbitrarily in the workplace.

So, with research now showing that more people are being dismissed for Internet-related offences than ever before, employers now find themselves in a very difficult situation. It’s called ‘Vicarious Liability’ and more than ever before, if you happen to hold a responsibility for email or any other means of storing personal information, then you need to be sitting on-top of the current raft of European and domestic legislation instead of risking drowning beneath it.

If it is a good thing that the rules governing interception of employee communications are now defined, the disadvantage, from the point of view of the employer, lies in having to develop a policy, which allows the company to reasonably intercept communication without falling foul of the law. This still appears to me to be a highly emotive ‘can of worms’ and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the subject re-visited, yet again, in a year’s time. Leave the eavesdropping to GCHQ until then.


Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

An Ockham of Gatwick

The 13th century theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham, who once lived in his small Surrey village, not so very far from what is today, the wide concrete expanse of Gatwick airport is a frequently referenced source of intellectual reason. His contribution to modern culture was Ockham’s Razor, which cautions us when problem solving, that “The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct;” sound advice which constantly proves to be true.

A week further-on since Britain’s second busiest airport was bought to a complete standstill by two or perhaps two hundred different drone sightings, it is perhaps time to revisit William of Ockham’s maxim, rather than be led astray by an increasingly bizarre narrative, one which has led Surrey police up several blind alleys with little or nothing in the way of measurable results.

 Exploring the possibilities with a little help in reasoning from our medieval friar, we appear to have a choice of two different account…
A Christmas Tale

It’s pitch blackness in places along the sea wall this evening and I'm momentarily startled by a small dog with orange flashing yuletide antlers along the way. I’m the only person crazy enough to be running and I know the route well enough to negotiate it in the dark, part of my Christmas exercise regime and a good way of relieving stress.

Why stress you might ask. After all, it is Christmas Day.

True but I’ve just spent over two hours assembling the giant Playmobil ‘Pony Farm’ set when most other fathers should be asleep in front of the television.

I was warned that the Playmobil ‘Pirate Ship’ had driven some fathers to drink or suicide and now I understand why. If your eyesight isn’t perfect or if you’ve had a few drinks with your Christmas lunch then it’s a challenge best left until Boxing day but not an option if you happen to have a nine year old daughter who wants it ready to take horses by tea time.

Perhaps I should stick to technology but then, the instruc…