Saturday, June 03, 2006

Big Brother is Reading Your E-Mail

According to Reuters, a new study finds that companies snooping on employee e-mail is very common.

The study reveals that close to half of big companies in the United States read and analyze employee e-mail.

In another survey of 840 U.S. companies by the American Management Association, 60% said they use some type of software to monitor their employees' incoming and outgoing e-mail.

An increasing number of companies are employing staff to read outgoing e-mails of employees, some of whom get a tiny warning message when they sign on to their computer that messages may be monitored, but most don't realize this is actually taking place.

When I worked for Pfizer, I couldn't boot up my computer if I didn't click OK on a button which stated among other things, "The Company regularly monitors the system for maintenance and to investigate the activities of individuals suspected of improper usage. Anyone using the system consents to such monitoring."

And of course I discovered that the company didn't just monitor e-mails, they also hired private detectives. You can read my corporate security report here, and also documents on phone monitoring.

"It is not something that is broadcast," Steele said. "There are organizations where employees think they can say whatever they want to say and nobody is going to read it."

In most states companies don't have to tell their employees that their e-mail is being monitored. Only Connecticut and Delaware have laws requiring companies to notify employees, says Jeremy Gruber, legal director at the National Workrights Institute, a Princeton, N.J., workplace privacy advocacy organization. As an employee, "you have no rights whatsoever," he says, according to the Wall Stree Journal.

"In the United States, 44 percent of companies with more than 20,000 employees said they hire workers to snoop on workers' e-mail."

"Nearly one in three U.S. companies also said they had fired an employee for violating e-mail policies in the past 12 months and estimated that about 20 percent of outgoing e-mails contain content that poses a legal, financial or regulatory risk."

According to the WSJ, "E-mail-scanning software has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. In the past, the software would typically check e-mail messages against a list of keywords, such as profanity. Now, such programs can be customized for each company, and often look out for the name of a company CEO, competitors or product code names, in addition to inappropriate language, including profanity and sexual terms. The systems can also track if an employee is copying or deleting files -- or not doing much at all."

"Companies can also customize monitoring systems to flag industry-specific words or phrases that might pose ethical problems: Financial-services firms might search for words like "promise," "guarantee," or "high yield," while a health-care company would watch for terms like "patient info" or "client file," says Richard Eaton, chief of TrueActive Software Inc., of Kennewick, Wash."

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