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How to write usage policies for the Internet and email

You need to set out clear guidelines on how your staff should use the Internet and email, both for personal and business use. It is always worth informing visitors to your web site about how the site works and how you might use any personal data that they submit through it. You also need to make clear the copyright of site content.

An Internet acceptable use policy will set out your employees' responsibilities when using the Internet in their day-to-day working activities. While you should always consult staff about the actual contents and the policy in general before enforcing any policy, something along the lines outlined below would not be un-typical.

Use of the Internet by employees of "your business name" is permitted and encouraged where such use supports the goals and objectives of the business. However, "your business name" has a policy for the use of the Internet whereby employees must ensure that they comply with current legislation, use the Internet in an acceptable way, and do not create unnecessary business risk to the company by their misuse of the Internet.

Unacceptable behaviour can also be set out in the policy and this will typically cover all of the following:

  • Visiting Internet sites that contain obscene, hateful or pornographic material, using the computer to perpetrate any form of fraud, or software or music piracy

  • Using the Internet to send offensive or harassing material to other users, downloading commercial software or any copyrighted materials belonging to third parties, unless this download is covered or permitted under a commercial agreement or other such licence

  • Hacking into unauthorised areas

  • Creating or transmitting defamatory material

  • Undertaking deliberate activities that waste staff effort or networked resources

  • Introducing any form of computer virus into the corporate network.

With regards to monitoring their activities and emails, the following wording can be used as a guideline.

"Your business name" accepts that the use of the Internet is a valuable business tool. However, misuse of this facility can have a negative impact upon employee productivity and the reputation of the business. In addition, all of the company's Internet-related resources are provided for business purposes. Therefore, the company maintains

the right to monitor the volume of Internet and network traffic, together with the Internet sites visited. The specific content of any transactions will not be monitored unless there is a suspicion of improper use.

When it comes to sanctions, it is normal to inform staff that failure to comply with the guidelines will result in anything ranging from verbal and written warnings, through to dismissal. These procedures should be in line with your normal operational and disciplinary processes and need to be established and included in the acceptable use policy from the outset. There should also be a formal agreement which all employees, contractors or temporary staff who have been granted the right to use email or the Internet are required to sign, confirming their understanding and acceptance of the policy.

Wording for terms and conditions of web site usage should provide information about the content and how visitors are and are not permitted to use it. It also needs to spell out how you will respect the privacy of your web site users, and set out what information you will gather, how you will use it and how you will keep it secure.

Visit http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/ for more information and more samples of wording for web sites and acceptable usage policies.