Business challenges Information Commission on workplace privacy rights

A row between the Government's Better Regulation Task Force, employers' organisations and the Information Commission looks set to...

A row between the Government's Better Regulation Task Force, employers' organisations and the Information Commission looks set to heat up after businesses called for a fundamental rethink of workplace privacy codes.

David Arkulus, the newly appointed chairman of the task force, an independent body that advises the Government on red tape, last week wrote to the Information Commission warning that employers could end up breaking data protection laws because workplace privacy codes of conduct were unworkable. He called for them to be fundamentally revised.

The codes attempt to lay down the practical implications in the workplace of the Data Protection Act, which will come into force later this year.

The Arkulus letter, which is backed by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and Confederation of British Industry, said the code was both unclear and that it increased the burden of bureaucracy on industry.

The Better Regulation Task Force has claimed the code blurred the distinction between legal requirements and best practice on issues like workers' rights to private e-mail.

"There is not sufficient distinction between best practice and legal requirements, " a representative told CW360.com. "Small and medium sized businesses don't know what the legal requirements are and this may cause them unnecessary expense."

The British Chambers of Commerce said too little attention had been paid to the needs of small and medium sized businesses. "The administrative task required of small businesses are vast," a BCC spokesman told CW360.com. "Businesses are not against flexibility or respecting the privacy of their staff," he added, "but companies have to be able to protect themselves."

Jonathan Bamford, assistant commissioner at the Information Commission, said the Better Regulation Task Force and business groups were fighting last year's battle.

"The comments seem to be based on the draft code that we put out to consultation, rather than our response to that consultation," said Bamford. The commission had redrafted the code and was publishing it in manageable parts in "plain English," he told CW360.com. "It is a complicated topic and people would be upset if we didn't do a thorough job."

Bamford went on to say it was false to counterpose best practice and legal requirements. Everything in the codes is written from the perspective of best practice and everything is there to ensure legal compliance, he told CW360.com.

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