Sunday, August 4, 2013

Can a boss check your personal e-mail? UAE Law

A British professional living in Dubai found out that his boss was reading his personal e-mails. He, inadvertently, saved the password to his email on his office computer, giving access to all his correspondence - whether personal, financial or professional - to his boss.

When he discovered this, the matter was taken up with the HR and the boss had to apologise to him before the team.

In an office, work email is probably your employer’s property, not yours. Most people also access their personal emails from the office computer. If they do so, all personal emails on a company-owned computer, phone or other device, may be available on the company’s server and can be accessed if somebody in command wants to.

However, most offices do not approve of things like sneaking into somebody’s personal email, and there are legalities governing this issue that should ideally be followed.

Employees in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) are protected against this.

“In the DIFC, there is a data protection law, which gives some clarity on an employer’s obligations with respect to employee’s personal information. Employers require employee consent to process their personal information and certain information is recognised as being sensitive personal information. If an employer wishes to monitor communications, then it should have a clear policy on doing so and inform employees as well as obtain their consent,” Sara Khoja, Partner, Employment Group at Clyde & Co in Dubai, told Emirates 24|7.

But what about those employees who are not based in the DIFC?

“Outside of the DIFC, the situation is less clear as there is no general data protection law applicable in the UAE on a federal level. However, there is a right to privacy under the UAE Constitution (some analysts’ view is that this right only applies to citizens) and there are provisions within the penal code, prohibiting the disclosure of personal information without consent or of accessing personal communications without consent,” she added.

However, new laws now aim to protect employees against such things. In this perspective, Khoja highlights the Federal Law No 5 of 2012 (Cyber Crimes Law) that came into force late last year.

“Article 15 of this law could be interpreted as meaning that the monitoring/interception of communication by an employer without the employee’s consent is a criminal offence,” she adds.

If you think your employer has been reading your email and is constantly bothering you, check with an expert to know what is right or wrong. But the best policy is one of caution. It’s not advisable to use your personal email on your work computer or devices that have been provided to you by the company. These can include laptops, tablets and smartphones. To avoid problems, use your own smartphone or laptop and keep your personal things personal.

What does Article 15 say?

Punishment of Capturing or Intercept any Communication Intentionally and without Permission through an Information Network

Any person who intentionally and without permission captures or intercepts any communication through any Information Network shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine not less than (Dh150,000) and not exceeding (Dh500,000) or by any of these punishments.

Any person who disclosed the information obtained unlawfully by receiving or interception of communications shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not less than one year.

Employers would be well advised to issue an IT and communications policy to their employees and to reserve the right in the policy and also in employment contracts to monitor communications made through its IT system.

It would also be best policy for the employer to have a message pop up when employees access the Internet, notifying employees that the Internet is for company use and communications are monitored.