Businesses wise up to e-mail abuse

A leading IT and telecommunications lawyer says a growing number of clients are asking him to devise policies to protect themselves from legal actions resulting from the use of e-mail.

Michael Chissick, partner in charge of Field Fisher Waterhouse's IT and Internet group, said there were no current cases of alleged e-mail abuse in the UK. But he said that in the US the investment bank Morgan Stanley was facing a $60 million lawsuit over an e-mail message allegedly containing a racist remark.

Following an article written by him on the subject in last month's Internet Age magazine, Chissick has received a lot of interest from companies wanting to protect themselves from legal action. He said the calls reflected a "growing awareness of the dangers of e-mail as well as its benefits".

The technology allowing staff to communicate using a fast, easy and informal medium raised new legal issues, said Chissick. He added that the law was very clear: a company could be liable for the acts of an employee which were done in the course of employment, even if the act was unauthorised and contrary to company policy.

According to Chissick, one of the best ways for a business to reduce its potential exposure to legal action is to devise a corporate policy and train its staff about the risks of communicating by e-mail.

As a result of his work in the field Chissick has been asked to act as a consultant to a research company to look into the subject. He will be contributing legal research to the project.