Councillor slams ‘Big Brother’ ICT policy proposals

A councillor at a Welsh authority has hit out at a new ICT policy which would allow the ICT department to check councillors’ emails and websites they visit.

Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council has drawn up new guidelines on ICT use which it says are necessary to protect the council from legal action and promote safe use of internet and email facilities.

But Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell says the policy “smacks of a Big Brother mentality” and questions whether it breaches data protection laws.

He said: “I am sure residents contacting their councillors would be dismayed to know that their communication was not considered as private.

“Just who is going to “check” these emails and what are they checking for? This appears to be a gross breach of data protection. This to ‘protect the Council’s interest’ but what about the people who are supposed to be served by the Council?”

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The proposed policy would allow the council to examine personal files stored on the council’s systems, including emails.

“Council systems are primarily for the storage of work related material,” it says.

In addition, the ICT department would produce monthly reports detailing internet pages that users have accessed, which will be sent to heads of departments “for review for both statistical purposes and to ensure compliance with this policy”.

But Powell said: “I consider that any files sent to me in my capacity as a councillor are personal. The people of my ward and indeed the wider area email me to what they believe is a confidential address not one which can be randomly accessed by a council employee.

“I certainly am not prepared to sign up to a policy that gives carte blanche to un-named people acting for “the council” to spy on what should be private correspondence between residents and myself. I am elected to represent the people not the council.”

A statement from the council said: “The council considers the internet to be a valuable asset that, if used correctly, can help council users do their job more effectively. Therefore it is council policy to promote its proper and efficient use.”

Colin Marrs

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