Thought for the day:Who's reading your e-mail?

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.As I'm quite unused to sensible...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.As I'm quite unused to sensible comments on matters of technology from anywhere in the vicinity of Westminster, I've been surprised to have seen - in the space of a week - two MPs from opposite sides of the House introduce useful arguments involving IT and its legislation.

First it was Labour MP Derek Wyatt who, after reading Thought for the Day on the rising spam plague, told me that he plans to start a lobby group to campaign against this rapidly growing menace, responsible for clogging up our inboxes with the worst kind of intrusive behaviour.

Hard on Wyatt's heels comes Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who has reached the welcome conclusion that reading other people's e-mail, even if they happen to be your employees, just isn't on.

In the wake of the RIP legislation, a new software industry has grown up around an unrestricted licence to snoop. Only last month a company released a thinly disguised "Trojan Horse" product, aimed at Hotmail accounts, which, for around £64, can invisibly forward all Hotmail and Instant Messaging traffic back to a third-party's e-mail account.

While employers may have a legitimate interest, in very special circumstances, to intercept private e-mail correspondence or even telephone calls, I believe that the emphasis has swung too far towards giving business carte blanche to trawl at will.

Personal privacy has become increasingly threatened under this government. A new survey has revealed that one in five companies now monitors employees' Internet and e-mail use on a daily basis.

Such news makes me increasingly apprehensive over the speed at which we appear to be embracing a Big Brother society, a worry obviously shared by Michael Fabricant, who wishes to afford the same protection in law to e-mail as exists for telephone calls and the post.

Whether either MP can exert influence over these two separate problems is open to question. Spam is a global annoyance and e-mail doesn't respect EC legislation, so cutting off the spam at source may be an impossible task. The solution can only lie in better and more powerful filtering and whose responsibility, I wonder, should that be?

And as for reading other people's e-mail, I very much doubt that this government would entertain any legislation that would encourage vigorous debate over the question of personal privacy - in the workplace or anywhere else.

If you follow the work of Privacy International or The Foundation for Information Policy Research, then it becomes abundantly clear that, thanks in part to a fear of terrorism and the introduction of new technology, we are losing civil liberties at Internet speed.

So don't expect any sudden changes in the law. Stay at home, hide under a duvet and write your letters in invisible ink!

What is your view?
Should employees be stopped from monitoring staff e-mail? Tell us in an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was last published in September 2002

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