RIPA and Human Rights Act conflict

RIP violates privacy at work, conflicts with Human Rights
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

The government's controversial RIP Act violates the right to privacy within the workplace under the new Human Rights Act, according to legal experts Tuesday.

Businesses monitoring their employees' email and Internet usage could be infringing the new Human Rights Act (HRA) published Monday, which codifies a person's right to privacy and private correspondence. As well as legalising government snooping, RIP (Regulation of Investigatory Powers) enables an employer to legally monitor his or her staff if he/she suspects them of misusing the Internet.

Companies must obtain employees' consent to intercept or monitor their use of email and the Internet, or risk being sued under HRA 2000 say experts. In order to comply with RIP, legal experts predict that it may be necessary for workers to waive their rights to privacy and private correspondence while at work.

Partner in law firm Olswang Catherine Taylor argues it is unfair that employees have to sign away their privacy when they have little choice about signing work contracts. "This can never be an appropriate means of renouncing a person's human rights when very little choice is involved in signing an employment contract," she says.

Robin Bynoe, partner at City law firm Charles Russell, points to the undue amount of influence that could be exerted upon staff to sign away their right to privacy. He recommends that employers should warn staff of their Internet surveillance policy, but offer them an unsupervised alternative such as a Hotmail account for personal use.

Jonathan Hobday, managing director of surveillance software firm Netsiren believes that employers will legally be able to dismiss staff who refuse to offer their consent. "A change of employment contract instigated by a change in law would provide acceptable grounds for legal dismissal," he says.

The government has urged businesses to check that they have the necessary clauses in staff contracts to inform employees that their Internet usage is open to surveillance, and gain consent to do so.

The RIP Draft on Lawful Business Practice Legislation was due to come into force on 2 October -- on the same day as the HRA 2000 -- but has been delayed until later this month as government irons out possible conflicts between RIPA and HRA.

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance, a ZDNet News Special.

Should employees have a right to private correspondence and web surfing in the workplace? To have your say online click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

Editorial standards