Judges Removed For Looking at Porn Whilst at Work

Judges Removed For Looking at Porn Whilst at Work

When Can Your employer Monitor Your Internet Activity and Emails?

Earlier this week, three judges were removed and a fourth resigned following an investigation into an allegation that they viewed pornographic material on office computers.

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The inquiry was revealed by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO), which discovered tat there had been "inexcusable misuse" of IT accounts on the part of the judges. Interestingly, the judges had not been sharing images or appeared to be linked in any way.

The JCIO did not mention however, how the pictures were discovered. This could have been through a routine internal audit or through some other procedure. Whilst viewing pornography is not a crime, doing so during office time is serious misconduct and as a result dismissal was deemed to be a necessary punishment.

However, the case does bring to light some interesting legal questions, and not just concerning the private life of judges.

Today at Unlock the Law we take a look at the legal issues surrounding this scandal. Where is the line between 'private life' and 'work life'? What is your employer allowed to view to gather evidence against you? Can your employer monitor your personal emails? Can your employer read your private Facebook messages?

Can my employer monitor my emails and internet use?

Where your employer intends to monitor your emails or internet use, they must inform you that they intend to do so. This could form part of your employment contract, employee handbook or be part of a work email and internet policy.

Any policy relating to monitoring should detail:

  • The circumstances under which you may or may not use work email and internet for private communications.
  • Clearly, the kind of private use that is permitted and to what extent it is allowed.
  • Why your employer monitors emails and internet use.
  • The extent of the monitoring and the means used for monitoring.
  • How the policy will be enforced and the penalties you may face for breaching the policy.
  • The extent to which details of your internet activity and emails will be retained on the system and for how long.
  • Your employer may, if they wish put a blanket ban on the use of work internet and email for personal use – they must give you adequate notice of this.

Can my employer read my emails?

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 prohibits interception of emails intentionally without "lawful authority".

Generally, employers may not read the content of an email without consent from both the sender and recipient.

However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule listed in the Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 . Business emails may be intercepted in order to:

  • Ascertain regulatory compliance;
  • Detect unauthorised use; and
  • Prevent or detect criminal activity.

These exceptions do not however apply to personal emails – this means your employer should take all reasonable steps to avoid opening them – even those personal emails that have been sent from a work based account.

Where your employer does look at your emails, they should restrict themselves to looking solely at the heading of your business emails unless it is absolutely essential for a valid and defined reason to read the content.

If you think your employer has illegally monitored your emails or internet activity, you should seek legal advice from a specialist lawyer.

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