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Legislation on employee surveillance

May 5 2005 - The Workplace Surveillance Bill was introduced in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. The Bill is intended to replace and widen the scope of the Workplace Video Surveillance Act 1998. It will make it an offence for employers to engage in covert surveillance of emails and website access or the use of tracking devices without a court order. The legislation is likely to be passed next week.

Attorney General Bob Debus said:

"People are concerned that what they consider to be essentially private communications by way of email may end up being intercepted and read by employers. Technological advances allow small tracking devices to transmit movements outside of the traditional workplace and the capture of every word typed into a computer.

"This bill ensures that employees are made aware of any such surveillance. It extends to computer surveillance - surveillance of the input, output or other use of a computer by an employee - and tracking surveillance - surveillance of the location or movement of an employee. It restricts and regulates the blocking by employers of emails and Internet access of employees at work. It extends beyond the traditional workplace to any place where an employee is working."

He went on to say that: "The bill regulates the carrying out of surveillance under a covert surveillance authority, and the storage, use and disclosure of covert surveillance records. It does not create an enormous burden on employers. While it is true that the notification regime seeks to ensure that employees are made aware of any surveillance being conducted by an employer, notification is not itself an onerous requirement. Essentially, the bill promotes transparency in the workplace, obliging employers to be open about surveillance practices."

Bob Debus explained that notification meant that employees:

"... must be given written notice 14 days prior to any surveillance commencing. This notice, which can be sent via email, must indicate the kind of surveillance to be carried out; how the surveillance will be carried out; when the surveillance will start; whether the surveillance will be continuous or intermittent; and whether the surveillance will be for a specified limited period or ongoing. An exemption applies in the case of camera surveillance of an employee working somewhere that is not their usual workplace. That is to ensure that large employers, with many workplaces, are not required to notify individual employees each time they happen to go to a different workplace, for instance to attend a meeting."

Employer would be permitted to block spam and messages containing 'viruses, trojan horses, or offensive and harassing material' but would not be allowed to block access to to emails or websites because they contained industrial relations information.

Press reports indicate that Victoria and South Australia are considering similar legislation.


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