Can a company read its staff's email?

  Mr Alien 14:15 21 May 2004


I was just wondering, what is the law regarding company email addresses? If a company issues email addresses and inboxes to its staff, and they use them for personal use, are the company allowed to monitor and/or read them?

I know a few people have been sacked from my company because of sending inapropriate email, and they have been printed out by managment.

Is this legal?

  Sparrowhawk 14:21 21 May 2004

I use 3 email addresses:

- My work address for work only
- A free account for personal mail (
- Another free account for internet shopping, registering to newsletters (

  Mr Alien 14:29 21 May 2004

thats ok if your company hasn't blocked those sites!

  vinnyT 14:45 21 May 2004

Yes they can, your company probably has a computer/internet use policy which will/should explain what is and, more importantly, what is not acceptable use, ask to see it.

A good test is to pretend the internet and e-mails do not exist.If you sat down at the secretary's type writer and typed out a personal letter on company paper, put it in a company envelope and posted it using a company stamp, you would expect at the very least some mild chastisement.

  €dstowe 16:47 21 May 2004

As owner of a small company with a staff of twelve, this is my policy.

Internet facilities in the company are provided at my expense and I judge that I have the right to view, vet and censor any email message and all Internet usage that comes into or goes out of the company. I don't do this most of the time because I trust my staff but these conditions are well stated in the Company Policy Statement and form part of the Contract of Employment for each employee.

If any employees doesn't like these conditions, they are quite free to find employment elsewhere. They don't do this so I believe that they are satisfied with the arrangement.


  ventanas 16:48 21 May 2004

Provided it is clearly stated in your company's internet and email usage policy that they will monitor personal use, then it's up to you to take the risk. I certainly monitor what is being done here. But everyone knows it.

  spuds 22:39 21 May 2004

A couple of friends of mine who own business's, make it quite clear in their companies employment conditions that any correspondence or employees personal communications via the companies facilities are open to any inspection and censorship.Everyone excepts these conditions, and so far nobody as objected or abused these conditions.

If its in your employment terms and conditions, then its legal. But if you were in the legal profession, then no doubt you may find something in the Human Rights Act, which could lead to further discussion.

  ch0pper 00:31 22 May 2004

I have this situation to deal with all the time.

I runa clinical research department for a major pharma company, and we are in constant contact with researchers and clincians around the world.

Soemtimes, the comments can be very personal and indelicate, for example when criticising colleagues or other doctors.

It is a REAL pain to have to point out to these people that not only can my e-mail be scanned by my employers, but that their's can be also by their employers.

What I do is to use my personal laptop plugged into the phone lines that bypasses the company computers. That way, what's properly private remains private.

Incidentally, we 've had immense difficulties with the 'Net Nanny' type of s/ware. As I work with many disease areas, including HIV/AIDS, and other STD-related problems, I frequently get e-mails and images that this type of s/ware regards as 'obscene'. Oh the fun I had dealing with the Head of the nerd-herd when I tried to explain to him that almost by necessity many AIDS related contacts came from gay-related websites, blogs, discussion groups etc etc etc. Their keyword based approach was simply not appropriate. And, as you might imagine, pictures of genitalia and the like gave the s/ware a majot fit!

  €dstowe 06:56 22 May 2004

Regarding ch0pper's last paragraph. My brother is a gynaecologist. Imagine what net nannies do to his correspondence - especially those with photograph attachments.


  Forum Editor 09:07 22 May 2004

The law that governs the monitoring of employee communications is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 - usually referred to as RIPA.

This act covers many aspects of communications monitoring by both private and government agencies, but the part that you're concerned with deals with the monitoring and/or recording of both telephone and email communications between employees within the organisation and between employees and the outside world.

The act lays down that a private sector employer may lawfully intercept communications if any of the following situations apply:-

1. The employee has consented

2. The employee has not consented but the employer is acting within the scope of the Regulations.

3. The regulations allow an employer to intercept communications without consent for the purpose of monitoring or keeping a record:

To establish the existence of facts relevant to the business.

To check that the business is complying with self-regulatory practices or procedures.

To ensure that appropriate quality standards are maintained.

In the interests of national security.

To prevent or detect crime.

To investigate or detect unauthorised use of the telecommunication system.

To ensure the effective operation of the telecommunication system.

4. Businesses may also monitor (but not record) without consent:-

For the purpose of determining whether or not communications are relevant to the business

Communications to a confidential anonymous counselling or support help line.

The permission contained in my penultimate condition (determining whether or not etc.........) is the one that gives an employer an almost carte blanche authority in law to monitor employees' email, even without an employee's consent. In practice good employers will explain their policy to staff at the outset - when they join the oprganisation - so nobody can pretend to be in ignorance of the company's policy if things go wrong.

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