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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited
Are you at e-risk?
Are you at e-risk?
A survey of senior directors of 800 FTSE-1,000 companies by network security specialist Integralis reveals that despite a clear increase in e-mail and Internet usage by employees, UK companies are failing to take even basic precautions to protect themselves against legal liabilities which may arise from use of these forms of communication.
A total of 41 per cent of companies have no clear corporate policy on employee e-mail and Internet usage, despite the fact that the average employee is already spending significant time using e-mail or the Internet, according to the survey.
The evidence of exposure to "cyberliabilities" is also revealed in the survey - 15 per cent of directors had already disciplined employees for inappropriate use of the Internet; 22 per cent for use of e-mail to gossip with people inside and outside the company; and 4 per cent for passing on personal data via email without permission of the data subject.
Common cyberliabilities which employees expose themselves to include charges of racial or sexual discrimination or harassment for circulation of "inappropriate" e-mails; libel; misuse of personal information in breach of the Data Protection Act; breach of copyright and inadvertent formation of contracts.
Steve Webb, director marketing and business development, Integralis Network Systems, commented: "Employees need to know that when they send an email or publish information on a company website, they may be exposing their employer to numerous cyberliabilities, while simultaneously recording the evidence of any misdemeanours on their own server and the servers of all recipients of the information for later use in a court of law.
"Board directors of companies should minimise exposure to these cyberliabilities by putting together clear written guidelines on email usage and then enforcing them."
Furthermore, 85 per cent of directors now believe that e-mail is encouraging the circulation of inappropriate or even scandalous materials around the office, further increasing the risk of legal liability under legislation such as The Obscene Publications Act, the Computer Misuse Act, as well as sexual or racial discrimination laws. Worryingly, men were considered the main culprits of this potentially damaging trend of e-vine gossip, according to more than half of directors responding.
The survey also indicates that, despite the negative trend, no single director or division is taking responsibility for setting up and enforcing e-mail usage policies. A total of 40 per cent of the senior directors polled thought the board should take overall responsibility for this area; while 31 per cent gave responsibility to the IT department; and a further 17 per cent thought their human resources department was responsible.
Other interesting findings:
Directors estimated that up to two hours (one-fifth of the average working day) are wasted in personal e-mail communication or surfing the Internet, at a cost of £3.9 million to UK businesses with 1,000 staff. (The average number of employees of FTSE-1,000 companies surveyed was 4,552.)
Despite an increase in the use of e-mail for business transactions (up to one hour per day), internal and external business communications (up to two hours per day), 42 per cent of companies were unaware of any laws or regulations relevant to use of e-mail and Internet.
Integralis teamed up with cyberliability legal experts Theodore Goddard and insurer NelsonHurst in 1998 to offer the complete Cyberliability Service to companies wanting to address these concerns. Further information on the service can be accessed via the Internet at www.cyberliability.com