Government issues online surveillance guidelines

A new government report from the office of the e-envoy Andrew Pinder has warned that public sector IT managers should implement a...

A new government report from the office of the e-envoy Andrew Pinder has warned that public sector IT managers should implement a clear and open policy in relation to monitoring electronic communications.

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said the guide, Electronic Communications at Work: What you need to know, was aimed at the public sector but could prove useful to industry on the whole. "The guidance is intended for central government departments and agencies, and to set an example to the wider public sector," she said.

Confirming that the report had been produced in consultation with the information commissioner, the spokeswoman added, "If industry was to consider its recommendations, that would be a positive step."

Iain Bourne, a spokesman for the information commissioner, said, "It is the best, punchiest, clearest version of advice on using electronic communications we have seen. The new guide complies with a lot of new legislation and is more explicit about how to procure any relevant information properly than the 1999 version."

The guide gives advice on new legislation covering privacy issues such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Human Rights Act. Among the major recommendations in the guide is establishing a "policy on the use of electronic communications at work which sets out clearly to staff the circumstances in which they may or many not use departmental telephone systems, e-mail and the Internet".

The guide advises IT departments considering how to proceed with surveillance of staff e-mail and Internet usage to tread carefully. Monitoring "must be lawful, fair, necessary and proportionate to achieving the business purpose," it says.

It goes on to explain that before any e-mail or Internet access monitoring takes place, users need to establish the business requirement for carrying out such monitoring. "You must ask yourself why you need to monitor," it states.

Electronic Communications at Work: What you need to know is available at www.e-envoy.gov.uk.

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