UK employers crack down on Net use

UK bosses are the first to crack down on Net use at work, but can they be blamed when the official guidelines are still eight months away?
Written by Will Knight, Contributor on

Employers in Britain are more likely to come down hard on unauthorised use of the Internet at work than their European counterparts, according to a new survey published today, which signals a warning to those who surf the Web on company time.

UK employers were found to be five times more likely to discipline staff than Italian bosses and two-and-a-half times more likely than their French or German counterparts.

The findings were released by Internet management company Websense at Infosec, the UK's premier computer security conference held in London this week. Ninety percent of those workers questioned in the survey said they felt that the Internet could be addictive.

The same study indicates that workplace misuse of the Internet in the UK is more widespread than ever, with employees surfing the Web on company time for a wide range of purposes. Whereas downloading illegal material may be the most visible concern for employers, the study indicates that workers use the Web for all kinds of reasons. Fifty two percent of those questioned were found to use the Web to book a holiday, 41 percent to pursue a hobby, 28 percent to shop online and 27 percent to follow a sports event.

"The survey shows that the Internet is clearly a valuable business tool for employees, but at the same time it can be a distraction," said vice president of Websense in Europe. "It also shows that companies need to strike a balance and be aware that employees may object to having their Internet access at work managed."

There remains confusion over the extent to which employers can monitor workers. Confusion stems from conflict between the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which allows unrestricted monitoring and new Human Rights Act, which seeks to protect individual privacy. The government's Information Commission recently pushed back the publication of a code of practice outlining guidelines for employee monitoring, which was due to appear the spring, to the end of the year.

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