Privacy Legislation Proposed in U.S. Congress

BOSTON (07/21/2000) - A company would have to disclose to employees that it monitors phone conversations, computer use and e-mail messages, if legislation introduced Thursday in the U.S. Congress becomes law.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, and in the House by Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia, and by Charles Canady, a Republican from Florida. The "Notice of Electronic Monitoring Act" would require companies to tell employees upon their hiring and thereafter once a year what activities and data it monitors, with what frequency and for what purpose.

However, the bill, drafted as a new section of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), would not require employers to notify their employees of the timing of the monitoring nor does it prevent them from secretly monitoring an employee if the company has reason to believe the employee is involved in activites that could be "harmful" to the company or to other employees.

Companies that fail to disclose their monitoring activities could be sued by employees.

"If an employer electronically monitors an employee without giving the required notice, an employee may sue for civil damages. Compensatory damages are capped at $5,000 and total damages are capped at $20,000. In a case where many employees are affected, per incident damages are capped at $500,000," the bill reads.

A spokesman from Barr's office said the bill was to be referred to a committee in the house. No timeline for when it would go into effect was available.

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