From 24 October, businesses can legally monitor the communications of their employees without their consent, but only for certain specified business purposes.
This is due to the introduction of the Lawful Business Practice Regulations, which, according to Patricia Hewitt, minister for e-commerce, "will help users of e-commerce to be confident about giving information over the telephone, e-mail and internet". The regulations follow on from the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed in July this year, which makes the monitoring of staff without consent illegal. But these regulations provide a crucial exception to this rule.
The fundamental principle is that businesses may only monitor or record the communications of their staff for the following purposes:
In effect, this means businesses can intercept systems to protect against viruses or simply route traffic, such as backing up or forwarding e-mails. However, businesses can monitor, but not record, communications to:
Website operators with a privacy policies posted on their sites assuring customers that personal data will remain confidential, may want to rethink the wording, following the outcome of a US case concerning the online toy seller, Toysmart.
Online companies may, therefore, wish to follow Amazon's example, where customers are now told that information about them could be considered as part of company asset "in the unlikely event that amazon.com is acquired".
Distance selling methods
E-tailers may be forced to review their website, their advertising methods and ordering procedures following the introduction of the Distance Selling Regulations on 31 October 2000.
These govern all contracts (financial services excepted) where seller and consumer do not have face-to-face contact.
Online sellers are now required to supply the following information:
E-tailers should also note that a consumer has the right to cancel an order within seven days starting with the day they were delivered
If the consumer decides to invoke this right, then the seller must refund the money within 30 days of receiving written notice of this from the consumer.
Elsa Booth-West is editor of Electronic Business Law (EBL), an independent newsletter providing reviews, analysis and practical information on the legal issues of e-commerce and communications. EBL is published monthly and is available online to subscribers. For sample copies and subscription information for EBL contact Fawzia Ittoo (020 7354 6747) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org