E-mail snooping set to be outlawed in NSW and Victoria

Victoria is set to follow NSW and introduce legislation to outlaw unauthorised snooping on workplace Internet surfing and e-mail 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, said existing Victorian laws were inadequate to protect workers' privacy, and new minimum standards were required.

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

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 organized by the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), Professor Neave said 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 said.

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

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

But he said 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 offence 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 e-mails, tracking Web site access, using tracking devices in work vehicles and blocking lawful union communications

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