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Allowing employees to use personal email accounts to conduct business means that your company’s business information is being stored on mail servers outside of your control, anywhere in the world.  You have no way of knowing all the places where your company data is stored, or where it’s been transmitted. This is a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR; for which there are fines for companies and individuals of anything up to £18m.

It could be argued that there is a potential breach of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 as the information that should have been held on a company laptop and in company servers has been found in an employee’s system.

A personal email account is open to searches that are not permitted by the business and not covered by your company’s security policies; because employees may have agreed to Gmail/Hotmail Terms and Conditions (which allow for email content searches), to allow targeted advertising. You may have a good data privacy policy in place, but personal email accounts can bypass it with one click of the “Send” button. Again, you will be in breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Understanding the risks and implications of using personal accounts for business is not always apparent until there are Freedom of Information requests, internal investigations, or eDiscovery.  In all these cases, those personal accounts may contain relevant information and as such have to be offered-up for search and retrieval. This is a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Even the act of discovery is difficult – Personal emails are not discoverable in standard legal discovery procedures. Google for example prohibits external scanning of users’ emails (several cases are currently under way), meaning the company will have to instruct the user to scan his or her email themselves and runs a big risk of spoliation sanctions.  If the issue is regulatory, the company is likely to be found to be breaking the Law.

If there is a serious security incident that requires a legal investigation the police and courts can take measures to seize both business and private employee IT equipment, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 if there is a chance that evidence has held on any equipment used in the course of business. The chances of getting equipment back is very slim as it is often bonded and retained as part of a criminal investigation.

Furthermore, the company can be facing a lawsuit under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 if it is deemed that evidence has been withheld because of the company not being able to access information no longer in their control on employee PCs or legal cases could fail as there would be serious doubt about the integrity of the evidence being presented and a Judge may consider the evidence to be inadmissible.

Any employee in a business sending personal/personnel information to their personal e-mail addresses automatically breaches the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR, and is subject to the same enforcements under the ICO which might results in heavy fines.

In short, sending an e-mail to a personal account, or using a personal account for business use is a legal minefield that is not worth traversing either as a business or employee as the damage to reputation can never be repaired.

If you are concerned about your organisations’ data security then you may want to consider ISO 27001 (Information Security Management) or BS 10012 (Personal Information Management).

If you would like to learn more about ISO 27001, we do have a 2 part Podcast series discussing the journey to certification. Listen HERE.

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Is it okay to ever use a personal e-mail account address for business, or send business e-mails to my personal e-mail address?

The short answer is ‘No!’ This is because it opens your business up to security, legal and professional risks that may lose you customers and can damage your reputation.

All businesses have the capability to access their emails on all sorts of equipment, smartphones, tablets, PCs and laptops (the latter two through the use of a secure VPN back to the business itself. So, there is no reason to resort to personal e-mail accounts for business use.

However, there are far greater risks to the business in terms of Security, Legal Compliance and Business Reputation that should be enough to deter employees from using such risky methods in the corporate environment.

What are the security risks of using a personal account for business?

Personal email accounts exist outside of the IT department’s control, therefore, they are not subject to backup, archiving, security or governance so using them for business purposes, is a clear violation of compliance regulations. Furthermore, as they are beyond the bounds of the IT department’s control there is no guarantee that e-mails are secure or will remain free of any viruses.

If e-mails held in personal accounts are not back-up there is a loss of auditable trails and opens the business and employees up to losing important information that the business must, by law retain as business evidence of good business practices – this opens the company up to suspicions of fraud.

Employees sending e-mails to their personal e-mail addresses can not guarantee the security of their e-mails, particularly if they use systems such as Hotmail and Gmail, which are notoriously vulnerable e-mail systems and have been hacked on many occasions. How would it look if you lost company information because of a data breach in an employee’s personal e-mail account? It would damage you reputation and may result in lawsuits.

Whilst you may have appropriate antivirus protection in place, can the same be said of employees on home computers? Typically, the answer is no, either because the antivirus has not been kept up to date or the type being used is not as effective as those used within the business. If an employee sends an e-mail to a client from their home system it could be infected by a virus (that you have not been able to control) and the reputation of the company is impacted.

And since personal emails are not stored on company servers, discovery for DPA/GDPR and Freedom of Information requests are seriously compromised presenting legal risks to your organization.

If you are concerned about your organisations’ data security then you may want to consider ISO 27001 (Information Security Management) or BS 10012 (Personal Information Management).

If you would like to learn more about ISO 27001, we do have a 2 part Podcast series discussing the journey to certification. Listen HERE.

We’d love to hear your views and comments about the ISO Show, here’s how:

Subscribe to keep up-to-date with our latest episodes:

Stitcher | Spotify | YouTube |iTunes | Soundcloud

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