Dutch employers may monitor workers' online habits

Dutch employers have every right to track their workers' online habits, according to a statement from the country's data protection authority, the Registratiekamer, released this week.

          Dutch employers have every right to track their workers' online habits, according to a statement from the country's data protection authority, the Registratiekamer, released this week.

          The Registratiekamer says it receives many questions from employers, works councils, and employees about the monitoring of email and internet usage at work. "Employers want to know whether they are allowed to track their workers. They were happily surprised to hear they are," says Rudy Schreijnders, spokesman for the Registratiekamer.

          About half of the working population in the Netherlands now has access to the web and email at the workplace, consulting firm KPMG Holding concluded in a recent study.

          The Registratiekamer acknowledges the advantages of these new means of communication, but notes recent incidents have shown their negative sides.

          The data protection authority published 17 guidelines for employers in its latest study of the topic. Most important is the setting of clear rules for use of the internet, which should be approved by the works council and published so that all workers have easy access to them.

          The Registratiekamer said private and work email should be separated, but if this is impossible the employer should make an effort to disregard private email when scanning employee in-boxes.

          Where possible, illegal uses of the company network should be blocked by software rather than relying on employees to observe the rules.

          Logged data should not be kept longer than necessary: the Registratiekamer suggests retaining records of email and internet traffic for a month.

          "Companies want to control the use of email and internet, compare it to a photocopier and the telephone. Reasonable personal use will always be accepted; long international calls and hundreds of photocopies will not," says Schreijnders.

          UK insurance company Royal & SunAlliance last week sacked 10 employees and suspended 77 others after they were caught sending around smutty pictures of cartoon character Bart Simpson. In December an English law firm was embarrassed when an email exchange between an employee and his girlfriend about their sexual adventures became one of the net's most widely circulated email jokes.

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