Birmingham City Council have responded to my e-mail to them in response to the story about their seemingly unprofessional and possibly illegal approach to blocking websites dealing with Atheism and new age Neopagan religions:
Thank you for your enquiry
“Birmingham City Council has no plans to block staff access to any website on the grounds of religious, secularist or atheist/agnostic content.
“The only formal policy we have in this area is the City Council’s Internet Use Policy, the latest version of which was approved by Cabinet in March 2007. It lays down the principles of acceptable use of the City Council’s Internet facilities, including the terms of the concession offered to staff who have access for work purposes to make limited and reasonable use of the facilities for personal use.
We are currently implementing new software to control access to the Internet and various City Council staff have been discussing the detailed implementation of the controls, but this is purely to implement the policy, not to change it. There has been speculation in the press about our policy which appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of the status and content of a discussion document.”
Naturally I am grateful for the response but it ignores some of my questions. Naturally I replied pointing out these omissions:
Dear [name deleted],
Thank you for your response and your statement. The statement fails to answer some of the questions I have asked. I repeat them here for your convenience:
- If BCC are implementing a new monitoring product, have you informed employees that the mechanisms for monitoring will be changing?
- Have you informed employees who will have access to monitoring and why?
- When was the policy last reviewed by government auditors?
- Has the policy ever been reviewed by qualified legal advisors?
- Has the policy been reviewed by qualified legal advisors since the last update?
- Is this policy available for Council Tax payers to view for themselves?
I must also repeat my concern that, in my experience, any manager who can spend time monitoring the internet activities of his or her staff is quite probably underutilised, such activity strikes me as a possible waste of Council Tax payers’ money.
My family are Council Tax payers who live in Birmingham. Both they and I need to be reassured that whoever is responsible for your ICT provision is doing so professionally, with respect to best IT and HR practices, valid staff concerns, the law and the Council Tax payers that BCC employees serve.
I understand that you may not be able to answer my questions immediately given their specific nature. I would be grateful if you could pass my questions onto someone suitably qualified to answer them.
The BBC and Birmingham Post have raised valid concerns in their reporting which haven’t quite been answered by your statement. I look forward to your clarifications.
An Internet Use Policy is a sensible idea. However, such a policy needs to be regularly updated and always thoroughly checked by legal advisors. There are HR and contractual implications for such policies. Any organisation which takes its responsibilities seriously should ensure their policies and practices are water tight.
I’m not certain I will get the full response I would like but any response I do get will be posted here.