Delays to ‘Big Brother’ guidelines

The guidance, part of a document to help companies comply with the 1998 Data Protection Act, was originally due last year and then put back to January 2002. But it will not now be ready before the end of February, a spokeswoman for the IC confirmed.

In the draft version issued in 2000 the IC said employers should only scrutinise staff email, internet and telephone activity when there is suspicion of criminal activity or behaviour that contravenes conditions of employment.

Contradictions with government advice, however, forced the IC to look at the guidelines again.

But the assistant information commissioner, David Smith, said that the final version is unlikely to be significantly different to the draft.

Legal experts are concerned that users will be left to negotiate a legal minefield until the IC’s final guidelines are issued.

‘There is something of a dichotomy between the Data Protection Act and the Lawful Business Regulations, which has yet to be clarified,’ said Paula Barrett, partner at IT and ecommerce law firm, Eversheds.

Separately, the IC has issued a guide to data protection auditing for users on CD-ROM and via the internet.

‘The Guide to Data Protection Auditing’ is aimed at users who want to undertake or commission their own data protection compliance audits and small and medium sized organisations with limited experience and resources.

‘Ensuring compliance with the data protection standards is not simply an issue of operating within the law; it is also about effective handling of personal information and respecting the interests of individual data subjects. I hope that this Audit Guide assists data controllers in addressing these important objectives,’ said Elizabeth France, information commissioner.

  • Copies of the Guide to Data Protection Auditing on CD-ROM are available free of charge from the IC on 01625 545 700.

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