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Typical of companies today, Wilmington, Del.-based E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. doesn’t want its employees wasting time at work playing around on the Internet. And DuPont certainly doesn’t want employees doing anything unethical or illegal on the Internet. “For instance, we don’t want people doing drug deals using our e-mail system, we don’t want employees harassing other employees using our e-mail system,” said Donald Cohn, a DuPont corporate counsel. So DuPont was placed in a difficult position last year when the Delaware Legislature enacted a statute prohibiting employers from monitoring employee e-mail and Internet use without distributing written notice and securing each worker’s acknowledgment in writing. Compliance was difficult for DuPont, given that the company has nearly 80,000 employees spread over some 70 countries worldwide. Getting every worker’s written consent to anything is a tall order, said Cohn, who had the task of monitoring this for DuPont’s legal department. “You will get a subset of employees who will refuse to sign anything,” he said. So the company, in its mind, did the next best thing to getting the written consent: It lobbied the state Legislature to strike a middle ground between government and business. That came on July 9, when Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signed an act amending the state code to allow companies the option of providing “an electronic notice … to the employee at least once during each day the employee accesses the employer-provided e-mail or Internet.” DuPont took a proactive stance to secure the amendment, working with state Rep. Helene M. Keeley, D-Wilmington South, the sponsor of the amending act. “There can always be some middle ground,” said Keeley of her negotiations with DuPont (one of Delaware’s biggest employers) and representatives from the banking community and other key corporate sectors. “Everybody persevered and stuck to it,” Keeley said. DUPONT POLICY IS INTACT “This legislation really didn’t have an impact on our policy,” Cohn said. He said that for roughly 10 years, DuPont has used a “splash screen” that appears when employees log on to their computers to warn them about monitoring of e-mail and Internet use. “The issue was getting the law in sync with the policy,” he said. “Our need was to make sure that we could have a process in place that could fulfill the intent of the Legislature [and] have a practical way to accomplish that end.” When Delaware’s employer-monitoring law was first enacted, DuPont did not know what effect it would have for the company beyond state lines or overseas, Cohn said. DuPont has 10,000 to 15,000 of its work force based in Delaware, with the rest spread across the United States and abroad. Cohn said that Delaware is one of a few states looking to beef up electronic privacy for workers. Yet legislation protecting e-mail privacy is nothing new. In 1986, Congress enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which criminalizes the unauthorized access of electronic communications. The law carves out an exception for “the person or entity providing a wire or electronic communications service.” The Delaware experience, coupled with the specter of litigation related to Internet abuse, raises concerns on a broad scale for Cohn and corporate counsel like him. He notes that some foreign jurisdictions are far more protective of workers’ privacy rights. The big question, he said, is this: “How do multinational corporations do global business in a multijurisdictional world?” Cohn added: “It’s globalization pure and simple that we’re bumping up against.”

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