Tools manufacturer Black & Decker has implemented e-mail traffic pattern monitoring software across 31 sites and 2,000 mailboxes in an effort to enforce its acceptable use policy and boost productivity levels.
Such tools are becoming more popular and are often thought to ensure IT departments do not break laws governing employee privacy, though technology lawyers point out that businesses must follow strict procedures in their use.
Black & Decker has implemented Mailmeter from its Spennymoor data centre, which will allow the company to generate reports on e-mail traffic and domain names that mail is being sent to and received from, without reading the content of mail.
George Gardiner, a technology lawyer with law firm Stephenson Harwood, said that a business simply monitoring traffic data was exempt from the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 as long as it does not keep or analyse e-mail contact.
The RIP Act 2000 prohibits interception of communications, making it a criminal offence unless the sender and recipient have agreed to the interception, although there is a recognition that businesses can act in cases where standards need to be maintained or evidence needs to be gathered.
If, however, the business does deem it necessary to analyse e-mail content for disciplinary purposes then it needs to be aware of the Data Protection Act 1998 and strict procedures must be followed.
Gardiner said, "The law is complicated and there are a number of procedural steps which must be carefully followed if the interception is to be considered lawful and so that any evidence of improper use can be properly used in disciplinary proceedings against an employee."
A Black & Decker spokesman, said, "We have become increasingly aware of the dangers of e-mail misuse as its raises serious issues regarding employee productivity, corporate privacy, legal liability and bandwidth consumption. With demonstrable evidence of which employees are mis-using e-mail we can approach staff who are failing to adhere to the guidelines set out in our acceptable usage policy for e-mail."
"By making employees think twice about the way they are using e-mail, we are able to significantly improve business productivity and eliminate the threat of legal liability or reputation damage."