Businesses need to be aware of the legal issues associated with the monitoring of staff communications such as email and telephone calls to avoid falling foul of human rights directives in the UK and Europe.
Stewart Room, a partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, explained at a press event on Wednesday that, while firms may provide access to IT systems and assets, this does not give them the right to monitor all forms of communication.
"Providing staff with corporate email services or equipment like mobile phones does not mean workers give up their privacy. Under human rights laws staff are still entitled to privacy, as has been proven in case law," he said.
"While some form of monitoring is permissible, it is important that businesses make sure it is justifiable and has a clear businesses purpose, such as providing training and feedback for those in call centres."
Room explained that the key to avoiding legal issues is to create clear and well-defined policies which inform employees that their communications could be monitored under certain circumstances.
"There have been many examples in case law where firms lost legal battles with staff because they had did not done so. This is a major area of litigation and one that businesses ignore at their peril," he said.
However, Room explained that a European Court of Human Rights ruling legally obliges companies to put systems in place that monitor staff access to confidential data.
"There is a precedent under European law [in the case of L. v Finland] that means businesses have a duty to monitor access to data systems so they can prove a clear audit trail of who accessed confidential data at any given time," he said.
"Failing to put systems in place that can monitor access to data could be a breach of human rights."
Naeema Choudry, a partner at law firm Eversheds, agreed with Room's comments, telling V3.co.uk that companies need a strong business case to monitor communications and must tell staff that it is happening.
"Companies need to present a strong and demonstrable business case for the monitoring itself, and the level of monitoring should be proportionate to that business case," she said.
"In all but the most exceptional circumstances, companies will be expected to clearly draw attention to their employees the fact that monitoring is going to take place, the type and method of monitoring, and [how] any information gained through monitoring is to be used."
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