With scandal after scandal involving employees stealing company data or releasing financial details, many companies have cracked down and are reading employee email.
With many new laws coming into effect, and companies scrambling to meet regulatory compliance guidelines, it is important to remember that employees have rights too, and that they must be informed about any monitoring policies.
In the past, courts showed sympathy to companies that monitored personal email accounts accessed over corporate networks. Judges would treat corporate computers – and anything on them – as company property.1However, in more recent cases, judges are looking at whether employers are properly communicating their email monitoring policies to the employees. Driving the change in how these cases are treated is a growing national concern about privacy issues in the age of the Internet, where acquiring someone else’s personal and financial information is easier than ever. 1
In my opinion, I would avoid using my corporate email for personal use in the first place. It makes it a lot easier to 1) separate your personal and professional life, 2) prevent leaving any email traces behind when (and if) you leave the company, and 3) ensure that private messages stay private.
It’s the monitoring of personal email accessed while using your work computer that raises alarms for me. After all, it’s impossible to cut off the rest of the world for the duration of your work day since that’s the best time to reach other people, make appointments and so on.
Why do they monitor? Information leaks.
A July 2007 survey by Forrester’s consulting arm found that of those surveyed (308 IT professionals at U.S. enterprises with more than 1,000 employees), one third had investigated e-mails that they believed were used to leak confidential data in the past year. Respondents to the survey also estimated that approximately 20% of outbound e-mails contain “content that poses a legal, financial or regulatory risk.” Meanwhile, more than a quarter of the companies surveyed had terminated an employee for violating corporate e-mail policies in the past year, while 45% had disciplined employees for violating policies.2
Bottom line: companies need to make it clear, in regular layman’s terms, what they plan on doing with both private and personal usage of company email.
How to play it safe?
Email is like a postcard so don’t say anything in there that you wouldn’t potentially want the world to know!
What’s your take on the issue? Do you think that all messages sent from a company computer are company property?
P.S Maybe there’s a 6th Thing to Distrust About Email?
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