NSW to ban covert surveillance of emails

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NSW to ban covert surveillance of emails

Secret scanning of employee emails in addition to other covert monitoring will be outlawed by the NSW Labor Government.

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Secret scanning of employee emails in addition to other covert monitoring will be outlawed by the NSW Labor Government.

‘Workers shouldn’t have their emails secretly scanned, their locker rooms covertly video taped, their vehicles monitored without disclosure,’ NSW premier Bob Carr told the NSW Labor conference over the weekend.

‘Covert surveillance destroys trust in the workplace’ and ‘smacks of spying’.

In a statement issued yesterday, NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson said that under the proposals email usage could only be monitored through agreed processes.

Ai Group NSW branch director, Mark Goodsell told WorkplaceInfo email surveillance raised the issue of competing employer obligations between employee privacy and protecting employees from harassment.

Coverage

The installation and use of any surveillance equipment that records, monitors and listens to employees will be covered by the proposed laws.

Under current laws only video surveillance and listening devices were covered.

The proposed laws were in response to the December 2001 NSW Law Reform Commission (LRC) Surveillance: an Interim Report, which recommended to the Attorney-General that a new Surveillance Act replace the Listening Devices Act 1984 and the Workplace Video Surveillance Act 1998, and union pressure (see previous article).

Draft laws would be available later this year.

Warrant required

NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson said that under the proposals employers would have to apply for a warrant at a Local Court if they wanted to covertly monitor email usage, he said.

‘Unauthorised surveillance would be a criminal offence.’

NSW workers would be able to use emails ‘for reasonable private purposes without being spied on’, he added.

Union emails covered

Blocking certain emails would also be banned, for example union emails during industrial disputes.

‘We have had numerous examples of employers inappropriately monitoring emails, including blocking off email access for unions during industrial action.’

However, he was clear that the proposed changes would not allow employees to access pornography.

Competing obligations

Ai Group NSW branch director, Mark Goodsell told WorkplaceInfo on one hand, there were legitimate employee privacy concerns, but on the other it was the employer’s duty to protect employees from information and situations that were harassing and discriminatory.

Also there was the issue of some employees spending too much time on private emails.

He said an overt email monitoring policy that was agreed to by employees and employer was appropriate.

But in certain circumstances, covert surveillance would be justified, he claimed.  

While not privy to the Government’s proposal, he said seeking a warrant through a Local Court could possibly work, if the process was not to difficult.

Right of entry

Employees using the email for union business should be seen in the context of industrial right of entry, Goodsell believed.

However, it was ‘irksome’ to employers to know that their information technology could be used by some employees and unions to cause their company industrial harm.

Employees were paid to work for their employer and it wasn’t acceptable that some employees used a considerable amount of their working time to communicate with their union.

 

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