ACLU Applauds Bipartisan Legislation To Protect Employees' Privacy

July 20, 2000 12:00 am

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Thursday, July 20, 2000

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed introduction of a bill that would ensure employees are notified if their employer monitors their phone calls and emails and urged Congress to adopt the legislation before adjourning.

“Right now businesses are generally allowed to listen in on their employees’ phone calls and rifle through their emails with out the employees’ knowledge,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, an ACLU legislative counsel. “Even the best employee must occasionally make a personal call while at work. It is only fair that people are warned if they are being monitored.”

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representatives Charles Canady (R-FL) and Bob Barr (R-GA) held a joint news conference today to unveil the “The Notice of Electronic Monitoring Act,” which would require employers to notify employees about whether, when and how they monitor employee e-mail, computer and Internet usage and phone calls.

“The vast majority of Americans are not even granted the common courtesy of notice if their employer eavesdrops,” Nojeim said. (The ACLU is only aware of one state – Connecticut – that requires employers to give notice.)

The bill would only require that employers provide annual notice of monitoring – it does not give employees the right to block monitoring. Employers who violate the law would be subject to paying damages, which the bill limits to $20,000 per employee and $500,000 per incident.

To protect employers’ interests, the bill allows for monitoring without notice if the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee is violating the legal rights of the employer or another person and is causing significant harm.

“This legislation is a modest proposal that would simply provide employees with the ability to maintain their dignity,” Nojeim said.

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