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In Australia, Bosses May Get Power To Snoop On Emails 287

Posted by kdawson
from the just-for-hunting-terrorists-we-promise dept.
Numerous readers noted the proposal by the Australian government for legislation to allow employers to snoop on employees' email and IM conversations. This is being proposed in the name of protecting the infrastructure from terrorism. The attorney-general cited the Estonian cyber-attacks as a reason why such employer monitoring is necessary in Australia — never mind that the attacks were perpetrated by a lone 20-year-old and not by a foreign government or terrorist. The law permitting intelligence agencies to snoop on citizens without permission expires this June, leading to the government's urgency to extend and expand it. The chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia said, "These new powers will facilitate fishing expeditions into employees' emails and computer use rather than being used to protect critical infrastructure. I'm talking about corporate eavesdropping and witch-hunts... If an employer wanted to [sack] someone, they could use these powers."
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In Australia, Bosses May Get Power To Snoop On Emails

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  • really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Monday April 14, 2008 @12:08AM (#23059298)
    I had no idea it was illegal now! Here in the US it's like if you don't own the computer cuz it's a work computer and you're on the work's connection, they can spy on you all you want. It seems completely logical to me and not even really an invasion of privacy cuz you should be ohhhh you know, DOING WORK lol.
    • To me, this is just another manifestation of peoples' sense of entitlement.
    • Re:really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday April 14, 2008 @12:21AM (#23059390) Homepage Journal

      uz you should be ohhhh you know, DOING WORK lol.
      Talking to your union rep is doing work.

    • IF it were well explained before i was hired that they did this i would be ok with it because i could get a different job if i felt it too draconian. Companies need warning labels "will read your personal emails" "will search through your blog and facebook accounts" "will ask you to cover up our incompetence" and that sort of thing.
    • Re:really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by wvmarle (1070040) on Monday April 14, 2008 @01:29AM (#23059820)
      As an employer actually I consider it a right to know what my employees are doing. When using company resources (telephone, e-mail, Internet, whatever) then of course an employee has a right to use it for personal matters, but that should be limited to the necessary.
      For example, if they have to call their bank, then it always always must be done during office hours. But calling their lover that can be done after office hours.
      For e-mail: most people these days have an e-mail address already. Personal things they should send using that e-mail address. Work things are for the company provided address.
      It would be scary for me to not be allowed to check on my employees, to see that they are doing what they are paid for. Scary to be never allowed to read their e-mails, when I deem necessary (hasn't happened yet but it's possible) - the most likely situation for me would occur when a customer says "I sent that to this employee", who happens to be on vacation then, upon which I'd start looking through their company mail box.
      An employee should know that this is company resource, and the company also should have a right to check/limit the usage.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by coaxial (28297)
        It would also be scary if you couldn't listen into their phone calls. But alas, that's already illegal. Why? The telephone privacy laws were passed in a much simpler time, when employees were viewed as people and partners, rather than "human resources."
        • by wvmarle (1070040)
          One can always here half of the conversation.
          Then there is still the practical problem that my staff is usually talking in Chinese... I can understand it only partly (enough to figure out what it's about) but when using Mandarin I'm lost :)
          But still I get a monthly overview of phone numbers dialed (those out of Hong Kong) in the phone bills.
    • by Vellmont (569020)

      It seems completely logical to me and not even really an invasion of privacy cuz you should be ohhhh you know, DOING WORK

      So if I take 5 minutes out of my day to make a doctors appointment, it should be totally cool for my employer to listen in on all the details because I should be "doing work"? I don't know where you work, but most workplaces outside of Taco Bell have a tolerance for short entries of your non-work life into the work day.

      I'm not sure what the difference is if it involves a computer. It ma
      • If you're in the US, most states mandate at least a couple of 10-minute breaks per day, and even in those states that don't, many employers allow for this. Other than that, do it on your lunch break, or before or after work. There's a lot of time to get on the calendar.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Ok as an Australian SysAdmin and after discussing this with a few of my Sydney based counter-parts today we've come to the following couple of points:

      1. A phone conversation may not be monitored or recorded without prior consent from both parties. This is exemplified in calling the local telco and being told that our calls may be recorded for training purposes (my ass) and if you don't like it tell them so
      2. Web traffic log generation is covered by the usage policy on the network. Providing they've signed
      • So even if we have agreed to allow our SysAdmin permission to read our emails, should we wish to it can be taken to a federal agency and acted apon. It is thus illegal to read emails, regardless of what they have signed. If someone with more info on this than me could enlighten me further, be much appreciated.

        That's pretty much the problem they're trying to solve, as I found out by ringing the right office: http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=521210&cid=23060106 [slashdot.org]

        • It's so great that someone is willing to put in the phone miles to save my slack self doing it. I'm going to turn my spam filters off now and ask for a pay upgrade - damages for being forced to perform illegal operations ;)

          Well if you're ever here in Adelaide drop me a line. Reckon I owe you a beer for doing the hard yards for the prolongation of the discussion.

          Cheers
  • Eh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Monday April 14, 2008 @12:10AM (#23059318) Homepage Journal
    If the company owns the machines and the network, then the company is able and allowed to watch everything you do - particularly if you signed an employment agreement consenting to it.

    This is not news. Frankly sometimes I think privacy advocates overreact - and I think this is one of those times.
  • I guess this is the last time I'll be posting from my (Australian) work computer.
  • Are we talking about a government or the corporations?

    If it's the government then they need to FUCK OFF. There is no reason for government mandated spying of corporate infrastructures. Period. If that is what is happening, then I can understand the uproar.

    It it's the corporations, then everybody needs to calm down and put things in perspective. Corporations have EVERY right to watch what you do at work. It is not even "spying". If I hire somebody to fix my toilet, then although it may annoy them, I ca
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by _merlin (160982)

      Corporations have EVERY right to watch what you do at work.

      No they don't. In fact, in most of the world, they aren't allowed to spy on you without your consent. The USA just has a pathetic lack of privacy laws. Judging from your post and others like it, they've also brainwashed the population into accepting it. I don't want my freedom eroded any more than it already has been.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        No they don't. In fact, in most of the world, they aren't allowed to spy on you without your consent.

        Why not? While they certainly shouldn't be allowed or permitted to spy on one in their own home or while they are on one's own time, if somebody is being paid to work, why should the employer have any less right to watch what they do than, to use the example the GP suggested, your own right to hover over the activities of the person you hired to fix your toilet? If a person isn't comfortable being watched

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Asic Eng (193332)
          Spying on someone and watching someone are two distinct different concepts. When your boss watches you, you know that he's there doing that - when your boss is spying on you, you may not be aware of it. Using your concept of watching what the plumber is doing: in the first case you are standing around looking at his work - in the second you install a video camera to secretly observer him. People are very uncomfortable with the second scenario - they feel violated. That's why companies shouldn't be permitted
          • by EdIII (1114411) *
            Why is it so hard to understand that practically EVERY company started out from the ground up? What is so different about a "mom and pop" startup and a 50+ year old company?

            I understand that companies should not have rights, that people do. Well the "people" that own the company should have the right to monitor, audit, evaluate, etc. their employees.

            Your distinction between spying and watching someone is irrelevant. While "spying" may be disconcerting to some, it is the only way to perform audits of corp
            • by Asic Eng (193332)
              I don't know why this is so difficult to understand: not everywhere in the world people follow US rules. In particular this discussion is not about the US, it's about Australia. I doesn't matter much what US employee manuals say in this context. And if you start your own company you will obey the laws of the country which you are in - if you don't like that go someplace else.

              Well the "people" that own the company should have the right to monitor, audit, evaluate, etc. their employees.

              What rights company

              • by EdIII (1114411) *

                Alternatively you can just keep saying "they should have this right", but that's not very interesting, and I think they shouldn't.

                That's the only part of your post that I am interested in. I am not talking about the LAW. Laws are not "right" just because they are a law, and I am not even arguing about the laws in either the US or Australia in the first place. I am arguing about whether or not employees should be entitled to privacy at work in the first place and why.

                You said, "I think they shouldn't". P

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Asic Eng (193332)
                  It's really about the kind of country you want to live in - it's a choice. I don't want employers to have the rights to snoop on people who happen to work for them, because I want to live in a free society despite the fact that most of us will have to be employees of someone else. I also don't think that e.g. technically-oriented people are less valuable to society than entrepreneurial-oriented people, both are needed to build a successful economy. To me that means that one of these groups doesn't have the
          • in the first case you are standing around looking at his work - in the second you install a video camera to secretly observer him. People are very uncomfortable with the second scenario - they feel violated. That's why companies shouldn't be permitted to do it.

            Interesting--the building I work in has two security cameras (we've had multiple breakins and the boss can pull up the images on his phone if the alarm system triggers).

            We've never had a single employee complain that there are two internal cameras. Not one person has mentioned. Perhaps you are assuming that more people feel "violated" by cameras than actually are?

            Companies don't have rights, people do.

            So entrepreneurs lose their rights because they are being gasp dirty capitalists? If you want to go down the path of enumerating each and every

      • The USA just has a pathetic lack of privacy laws.

        The founding fathers were loathe to add too many things which they considered to be obvious to our Constitution because they were afraid that if things were enumerated to explicitly they would eventually become the only rights guaranteed to the citizens. Hence the broad language and latitude on matters not considered absolutely essential (like the Bill of Rights and there were arguments about whether to include that as well for the same reason described above). The fourth amendment concerning unlawful sea

      • by EdIII (1114411) *
        That's right.... I'm brainwashed. I did not immediately put on my "tin foil" cap, or adjust it, and start frantically typing into the keyboard about how governments and corporations are evil, and how certain governments are pathetic and that my rights are eroding! my rights are eroding!

        I'm just as fanatic about privacy, anonymity, and government corruption in this world. I just have a "brain" and I like to use it too.

        Judging from YOUR post and OTHERS like it, you seem to have an unrealistic, unethical, fa
  • What happened? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by lelitsch (31136)
    I thought Australia voted John Howard out of office last year?
  • let facts get in the way of a politician's perfectly good diatribe. After all, they know more then you do, thanks to the taps they are already monitoring.
  • Since Parliament is subject to the will of the people, you too can now read your MPs email. Demand that and see what they say ...
  • PGP? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by homebrandcola (983781)
    Time to make sure my PGP certificate is still working ....
  • If a corporation wants to sack someone they will find reasons besides snooping on email or IM -- that's just another tool in the arsenal but won't change anything. Should an employer have the right to read employee's conversations? I say yes, but only if the conversation has occurred using the business infrastructure like business email, IM from inside the business, etc. To draw lines, all that stuff should be available to the employer and the employee should be aware and use restraint. If an employee wants
    • I agree. While I don't really think an employee has to be busy doing work for every minute of the work day, they really shouldn't be using company time and resources to be doing a whole lot of personal business, especially any of the kind that would get them fired or arrested. The occasional e-mail or the nightly call home to the kids are fine as far as I'm concerned, but there's a point when it's too much.
  • IANAL, but my understanding is that it is already legal for employers to monitor any and all use of employees emails, IM, etc. The company owns the computers so they can do what they want with them. There is no distinction between work-related and personal emails if they were sent or received using company resources.
    The Attorney-General says otherwise which is a surprise to me, and also I'm sure to much of the business and legal community. The legal advice to several businesses I've worked at, is that the
    • by Renraku (518261)
      The Hell They Can! (tm)

      While this is true, they DO own the infrastructure, this doesn't give them the right to snoop on your communications. Consider using the phone..should they be allowed to record and listen all your phone calls? What about those dirty pictures you have in your sent folder on yahoo mail..should they be allowed to access those too?

      The way it works in the USA is this. If the company owns the infrastructure, and the email is business related, they can snoop at will. If your email is ext
    • by deniable (76198)
      Yep, but in NSW they have to give you two weeks notice of monitoring. At least that's how it used to work.

      They can't monitor phone calls because of the Listening Devices Act. (Which is why when you ring a call center, they have to tell you that they may record the conversation. You give them implied consent by continuing the call.)
  • by LS (57954)
    It's quite common for employees to have no expectation of privacy regarding corporate communication. Perhaps things should change in the US as well...

    LS
  • by Jacques Chester (151652) on Monday April 14, 2008 @02:27AM (#23060106)

    First I rang my local member, who referred me to Julia Gillard's office (she made the original idiotic statements). Her office referred me to the Attorney-General's office, as that's where it's coming from.

    The nice functionary I spoke to there said it's a media beatup. Under Australian law it's illegal to intercept the communications of a third party without a warrant. There was some wondering about whether passing emails through a virus scan qualified as warrantless interception.

    Rather than going through some court case about to settle the matter, it was felt that it would be easier just to amend the Telecommunications Interception Act instead.

    So that's it. There's actually no story here at all. Though it did provoke me to write an angry rant [clubtroppo.com.au] before I started doing what the journalists should have done in the first place - check the facts.

    • And by way of full disclosure, I should point out that I ran as a candidate for a different political party at last year's Federal elections.
  • > -- never mind that the attacks were perpetrated by a lone 20-year-old and not by a foreign government or terrorist.

    This quote is far from reality. The lone 20-year-old was the only one who got convicted, because he was the only russian caught who
    lived in Estonia. Meanwhile the bulk of the attackers got away, because they live in Russia. And russia don't extradite their citizens (remember the Litvinenko case?). If you can read estonian, :-) see this link: http://www.epl.ee/artikkel/392271 [www.epl.ee]

    A crude transla
  • by MadMorf (118601) on Monday April 14, 2008 @02:49AM (#23060224) Homepage Journal
    ...It's called, "I own the equipment and I'm paying for your time, so you have no expectation of privacy. Deal with it!"

  • Dear Australian government,

    Since you are so eager to protect your country from evil bearded terrorists, I would like to suggest some other sensible measures:
    - employers can beat their employees with a stick whenever they do something suspicious ('suspicious' should be left vague)
    - employers can impound the passports of foreign or poor employees and lock them up all day in overcrowded shacks with no airconditioning.
    - employers can strip-search male AND female employees for dangerous substances that cou
  • 1. Usually it's implied that if you're using someone else's network (ie that of an employer), they generally have the right to peer at what you're doing. At least, that's the general consensus among the /. crowd in the states.

    2. The reason given sounds quite shoddy. Who launches terrorist attacks from a work computer?

It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. - W. K. Clifford, British philosopher, circa 1876

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