Rapid technological advances over the past two decades have revolutionised monitoring in the workplace, making an everyday reality of what was once the preserve of science fiction films and spy novelettes. The exponential growth in computer storage capacity now enables employers to retain substantial data from monitoring of:- · Email and internet use
· Telephone calls
· CCTV footage of staff on company premises, and
· Geographical positioning of staff using company vehicles and mobile phones. Reports of employee monitoring surface frequently in the national media. In 1997, Assistant Chief Constable Alison Halford was awarded £10,000 in damages from the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg because her employers tapped her work telephone. The main reason given for the award was her employers’ failure to inform her of the interception. In 2003 nurse Peter Truscott was fairly dismissed for accessing adult pornography while at work. He was not, however, barred from working as a nurse. Even lawyers are not immune, with 9 staff dismissed from city law firm Norton Rose for breaches of email use policy. A survey by Personnel Today in 2002 showed 72% of firms interviewed had dealt with internet misuse, 69% of misuse concerned accessing pornography. Recent developments in the courts and on the statute book show that a clear and up-to-date policy on employee monitoring in the workplace can help: · ensure compliance with the relevant law
· avoid legal liability to staff, customers and suppliers
· build better employment relations
· justify disciplinary action or dismissal, where monitoring gives evidence for breach of company procedures.

The decision to monitor

On 11 June 2003 the Information Commissioner (IC), the Government information and data protection watchdog published the long anticipated Part 3 of the Employment Practices Data Protection Code, which deals with employee monitoring. The Code is not legally binding but contains the IC’s comprehensive recommendations for staying on the right side of the law, contained in:

· The Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA)
· The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
· The Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 (the LBP Regulations) A good starting point for an employer thinking about monitoring is the IC’s monitoring impact assessment (included in Part 3 of the Code), which comprises:

· the purpose of monitoring arrangement and the likely benefits
· any likely adverse impact
· considering alternatives to monitoring or different monitoring arrangements
· taking into account the obligations that arise from monitoring
· judging whether monitoring is justified.