Further delays have hit the publication of the long-awaited staff email monitoring code, with newly appointed information commissioner Richard Thomas expressing concern at its composition.
The Information Commission has struggled since 2000 to produce a clear set of rules for enabling employers to monitor staff emails without falling foul of data protection laws.
In November, senior Commission officers insisted that the report was simply waiting to be signed off once Thomas took up his post in December. But speaking exclusively to vnunet.com last week, Thomas revealed that the code had not been ready.
"Before passing judgement, I wanted to see the complete version. This arrived on my desk at the start of the week," he said.
Thomas's apparent displeasure at the delay appears to be matched by concerns that employers will find the code cumbersome.
"One thing that is clear to me: we will need to produce a version for small businesses. They won't welcome 50 to 60 pages to wade through," he said.
Thomas remains adamant that, despite mounting pressure for the release of the code, he will not approve it until he is satisfied.
Employer and employee bodies alike have recently called for the guidelines to be released. The Trades Union Congress and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have said that rules for monitoring email should be a priority.
The Information Commission first published its data protection draft proposals back in 2000. Since then, three rounds of consultation have failed to produce definitive guidance.
Separately, Thomas also promised that his appointment would see a "common sense" approach being taken to data protection issues. He intends to push the benefits of protecting personal information, such as greater trust from customers.
"I'll keep the full range of sanctions available to me to deal with those that are ill-intentioned from the outset," he said.
His main concern is identity theft, where fraudsters obtain some personal data in order to access bank accounts and obtain passports. But Thomas has also pledged to keep an eye on issues raised by direct marketing and credit reference agencies.
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