Most managers are unaware of basic legal issues about computer use and are exposing their companies to prosecution, according to the authors of a new BCS guide to computer law.
"Legal concepts and terminology are notoriously difficult for non-specialists to get to grips with," said lawyer Jeremy Holt, co-editor of the book and secretary of the BCS IT Law Specialist Group. "This can often lead to confusion and ultimately, and unknowingly, law breaking.
"It is essential that people who buy and use IT are aware of the basic outline of the law that applies to computers so that they can protect themselves from potential prosecution."
Holt said a particular concern was employers' reliance on e-mail disclaimers. "They believe these provide satisfactory protection against people copying or distributing e-mails received in error.
"E-mail disclaimers are of little value other than to notify the recipient that the e-mail contents are confidential and to offer a method of reporting any misdirection. They are no substitute for a proper e-mail policy for staff or for the legal information which is the same as must be shown on a business letter."
The book, A Manager's Guide to IT Law, uses plain English to discuss issues including instructing a consultant, outsourcing, employment problems, intellectual property, data protection, joint ventures and escrow. It costs £25.
Orders can be placed via email@example.com
Further details are at www.bcs.org/itlaw
Five tips to avoid breaking the law
The authors of A Manager's Guide to IT Law, available from the BCS, have drawn up these tips to help organisations to avoid breaking the law:
- Create an official e-mail and internet policy, distribute it to all staff and make sure recipients sign to say they have understood the terms and conditions. This will justify disciplinary action if the policy is breached
- Ensure the organisation is familiar with latest health and safety regulations on computer use. For example, staff should sit correctly and there should be access for wheelchairs. Make this information available to all employees
- Ensure staff using computers are offered free eye tests at regular intervals; cover the cost of basic glasses or contact lenses if necessary
- Make sure that the foot on all e-mails contains the mandatory information about the organisation, including the company name, the registered company number and the registered office address
- If the organisation monitors staff e-mails, tell them and say why the action is being taken. Make sure that managers are aware of when they can and cannot read employees' e-mails.