Unions: Publish snooping code of practice

Unions are calling for the code of practice on monitoring employees' email and Internet use to be published as a top priority

Union chiefs in the UK are today urging the new information commissioner to resist employer lobbying and publish the delayed code of practice on the monitoring of staff email and Internet use.

The new information commissioner, Richard Thomas, took over the role in December, and this week laid out his plans for 2003. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) believes that publishing the final document governing 'snooping' in the workplace should be a top priority.

The TUC today said that the latest draft of the as-yet unimplemented code of practice gets it "about right", as it says employers must have a justifiable reason before breaching employee privacy.

It also provides clear guidance on how the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) regulates employers' use of email and Internet monitoring, CCTV cameras and covert surveillance to monitor staff.

But the absence of the final version of the code has meant employers and workers have lacked clear guidance on their legal rights and responsibilities, according to the TUC. The organisation fears that employers may manage to get the code of practice changed in their favour.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary elect, said: "We have been waiting more than a year for a code of practice. Employees and employers have been left in legal limbo. There has been adequate consultation and the first item on the new information commissioner's agenda should be the publication of the code of practice."

He added: "He should resist the last gasp employer lobbying to weaken the code. He should publish and be praised."

A first draft of the code was issued by the Information Commission in 2000, in preparation for the relevant provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 coming into effect in October 2001. Since then the code has been subject to three rounds of consultation. No date has yet been set for the publication of the final draft.

The Information Commission had not responded by the time of publication.

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