General Information

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BT Policy: Misuse of Electronic Media

26 July 2009

BT has reissued parts of their Security and Conduct policies that deal with misuse of electronic media.

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The changes, that have been the subject of dialogue with the union, are in two particular areas:

  • Responsibility for the content of emails considered offensive,
  • Use of BT equipment by friends and family members.

Offensive Emails

The revised wording clarifies the position regarding culpability for emails seen by someone who finds them offensive if they are not the original intended recipient.

Circumstances in which emails may be seen by people who are not the original intended recipient may include someone checking a colleague's email inbox when that colleague is absent from the office, or the intended recipient forwarding on the original email to a number of other people.

BT's clarification, which the union is content with, stipulates that the original author retains responsibility for the content of their emails, and therefore retains liability for any offence it caused, irrespective of how the person who is offended has seen or received the email in question.

The guiding principle therefore has to be that members should not author an email that they would not wish to be seen on taste and decency grounds by anyone and everyone.

Use of BT Equipment

The other principal change in BT's Security and Conduct policies relate to the use of BT equipment by friends and family members. The policy clarification makes it clear that this constitutes unauthorised access/use of BT's electronic media.

This reverses the approach originally adopted when portable computer equipment and remote access were first introduced. Then the prevailing view was that members should feel free to explore the equipment and use by friends and particularly family members was encouraged.

The union has been willing to agree to BT's change in policy because of the changed circumstances in which we now find ourselves. With the relative ease of getting online at home independently of the employer, a policy of use by friends and family has come to create more difficulties than it resolves.

Nearly all CWU Branches have had the misfortune to deal with discipline cases where access to something unsuitable has taken place and the defence is that a friend or family member of our member is to blame. Not only is this sometimes very difficult to prove (and still harder to get the employer to accept) it does not avoid the associated serious misconduct charges relating to network security which can be just as fatal to our member's continuing employment.

Overall, the Union believes that the additional clarity about what BT's computer equipment and systems are to be used for is helpful and appropriate.