Thursday, April 21, 2005

Employment Raw

Disclaimer: This article contains a discussion of a legal nature. Please do not take this article as legal advice - it's not meant to be.

The ever-vigilant Acidflask noted a first in Singapore Blog history - retracted statements about a workplace superior. On his blog, Acidflask poses interesting questions on the line between "freedom of expression and professional reticence". All very good questions. Unfortunately....

Acidflask, privacy a non-issue in Singapore. Here, an employee's right to privacy simply doesn't exist in any meaningful form. Micro$oft's stand on this topic is not uncommon by far.

I know companies in which bosses read their employee's email (legal in Singapore). It's also common HR practice in Singapore to have an employer ask for the release of results from a health screening. (again, no legal prohibition). Either of these practices would be proscribed or outright prohibited in some jurisdictions.

Privacy just isn't respected in Singapore. Granted, there are many laws that protect privacy of individuals indirectly, but there is no generally recognised right of privacy in Singapore. The indirect nature of the protection of privacy leads occasionally to absurd results.

Take employers snooping on employee's email inboxes for example. The law protects employers, but not employees. Employees cannot read their employer's emails without getting smacked silly by the Singapore justice system. This particular peversity of the law lies in the application of the Computer Misuse Act (Cap 50A). The Computer Misuse Act only prosecutes "unauthorised" access of computers. Without going into the nuts and bolts of the Computer Misuse Act, it is sufficient to say that a person who has the authority to control access to a computer, arguably, commits no offence under the Computer Misuse Act. It doesn't take a genius to see how this inequality can be exploited by unethical employers.

I respect the fact that the Singapore Gah-men is trying very hard implement best practices without eroding their traditionally pro-employer stand. The results, however, usually come out half-arsed - if they come out at all. According to this report data protection legislation has been under review for 14 years (the report says 12 years, but it was published in 2003). I have serious doubts that this will ever be enacted into legislation.

Hence, Acidflask, you give very good advice. When blogging, assume that anyone can read it and regulate accordingly.

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AcidFlask said...

The issue is perhaps more subtle than you have described it.

Blogs are (or to be cynical, can be) run entirely out personal resources. You can use your own internet connection, your own free time at home, your own blog host, without using a single iota of company resources. Yet you still can be accused of revealing trade secrets on your website and violating company regs, even while not on work time.

It's an issue beyond privacy at the workplace; it's a question of how far your work responsibilities spill over into your personal life that you have to think about not violating company policies even in your own free time.

Anthony said...

I note here, acidflask, that we've moved beyond the bounds of blogging? In my mind, there's no difference between blogging and, say, whining to your husband and revealing trade secrets in the process (happened to my friend btw).

I know where you're coming from, yet how fair is the work-private life distinction? The argument presumes that there's a distinction between work and private life, which may or may not exist.

ketsugi said...

might prove an interesting read.