west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Email Snooper’s Charter

“The Council will automatically monitor email including both the text of a message and any attachments. The Council will monitor both incoming and outgoing mail.”

“Emails will be automatically filtered according to the content and as a result may even be blocked from delivery.”

These are paragraphs 7.1 and 7.2 in Carmarthenshire County Council’s Email Usage and Monitoring Policy, which was on the agenda for the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on March 24th. The document reads like a snooper’s charter to me.

The policy tells all those employed by or elected to the council that there is nothing private either in the emails they send – or in the emails they receive. “All email traffic, including attachments, will be automatically monitored and reviewed, and any disciplinary action deemed appropriate will be taken”, as the policy says in paragraph 5.11.

This I find alarming, because there should be confidential channels through which residents can contact their elected councillors, and receive replies back, without the council’s senior officers becoming aware of issues that may be highly confidential.

Another troubling feature of this policy is the way it refers to ‘the Council’ as the monitor, seemingly without human agency. Continuing through the document, in paragraph 9, we read that “this policy is owned by the Corporate Information Governance Group”, so they must be the group where the buck stops.

The council’s Information Governance Group consists of the assistant chief executive for customer focus and policy; the head of administration and law; head of audit, procurement and IT; the performance and information manager; the information and data protection officer; and the IT security officer, according to the ICT Update Report (October 2011-March 2013).

All those listed are council officers.

The Email Usage and Monitoring Policy would dissuade me from communicating with an elected councillor by email, because I would not know who else might be reading it, and that person might even be stopping the elected member from seeing it.

An email policy is necessary to warn people against sending abusive material, or clogging up in-boxes with spam, or conducting their private life via council equipment, but the automatic monitoring of emails to and from councillors tells me, as an ordinary voter, that councillors nowadays come low down in the local authority hierarchy, and that seems very bad for democracy.

The policy was probably written with the best of intentions in mind, but it creates a barrier between voters and their representatives. People cannot express themselves freely when they know that someone unknown, not the intended recipient, may be reading their words.

Pat Dodd Racher

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