Government says employee emails are a matter of national security

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Government says employee emails are a matter of national security

The Rudd government has proposed legislation that will enable employers to view employee emails, justifying the move as a counterterrorism measure.

In a statement to the media, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that planned amendments to the Telecommunications Act are designed to protect the electronic infrastructure of companies that deal with sensitive information from terrorist attacks.

According to Partik Bihammar, senior analyst Security Solutions at IDC, the move has sparked lively debate concerning individual privacy in the workplace.

“It’s a cultural and philosophical debate and many are asking whether the security that we get is worth the violation of our privacy,” he said. “Everyone has a different perspective on what is a violation of privacy.”

Discussion would be better focused on implementation of the proposed laws rather than perceived infringement of civil liberties, argued Bihammar.

“It depends on how the laws are implemented, specifically what information an employer can look for and what information they can act on,” he explained. “The purpose of the laws is not for employers to spy on you. What we have to look at is the way it’s being put into practice so as to protect privacy and also pick up threats to national security.”

Bihammar claimed the proposal is part of a broader initiative by the Government to address issues surrounding data security. To support his assertion, he referred to the recent inclusion of data disclosure rules within the Privacy Act that require organisations to notify affected individuals of a breach involving their personal information. Consequently, data leakage has become a hot topic in the local channel.

“There’s a big market in the data leakage space. Large vendors like Symantec and McAfee have recently acquired data leakage vendors and there’s a lot of interest in technology that controls the flow of information leaving a company,” he said.

Bihammer noted that while there are already a variety of existing data protection technologies designed to protect company information, “there’s a big difference between protecting the Coca Cola recipe and protecting national security.”

Looking ahead, Bihammer believes the IT industry has an important role to play in guiding the way Government policy in this arena is realised.

“Technology plays a role in setting and enforcing polices, picking up conversations and enforcing rules and regulations,” he said.
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