Two Australian states set to outlaw email snooping

Victoria is set to follow New South Wales and introduce legislation to outlaw unauthorised snooping on workplace Internet surfing and email communications.

Victoria is set to follow New South Wales (NSW) and introduce legislation to outlaw unauthorised snooping on workplace internet surfing and email communications.

NSW introduced draft legislation this week and the Victorian Law Reform Commission is likely to recommend similar laws to protect workplace privacy.

Law reform commissioner, Marcia Neave, says existing Victorian laws were inadequate to protect workers' privacy, and new minimum standards were required.

Under one model being considered, she says, employers would have to seek permission from a privacy regulator before filming staff or reading their emails.

Another option would involve the development of a code of practice to ensure employees were informed about surveillance or monitoring, and ensure it was only used for an appropriate purpose.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), Neave says there was a clear case for reform.

"Employers are not under any obligation to consider privacy at all; other interests such as economic and business considerations usually take precedence over workers' privacy," she says.

AWU national secretary Bill Shorten says laws were necessary to stop Big Brother in the workplace.

Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) chief executive, Neil Coulson, says business accepted that workers had a general right to privacy.

But he says such a right could not be absolute, and in some circumstances, such as when investigating theft, surveillance could be required.

Under the draft NSW legislation, it would become a criminal offense to undertake any form of covert surveillance unless there was reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing by a worker.

The laws will stop employers secretly accessing private emails, tracking Web site access, using tracking devices in work vehicles and blocking lawful union communications.

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