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"I always feel like somebody's watching me"...

Do you ever feel like someone is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake?  Well if you're part of one of the 41 percent of largest U.S. companies that monitor their employees email on a regular basis, you might not be so crazy after all.

A surprising new survey is illustrative of the increasing loss of privacy on the internet, particular in public locations.  The company that published the study, Proofpoint, states that the cause of this privacy loss is not entirely malicious.  Companies have become fearful of information leaks over email, blogs, message boards, media sharing sites and mobile devices.  Over 44 percent of companies admitted to performing investigations into leaks this year.

Companies are responding by increasing employee monitoring.  Of the companies with over 20,000 employees, approximately 41 percent were found to monitor outbound email.  Of the large companies approximately 22 percent hired employees chiefly for the purpose of monitoring the other employees' email.

Aside from email leaks, 40 percent of companies reported investigating email violations of privacy or data protection regulations.  The results of these investigations -- 26 percent of all companies surveyed report terminating an employee within the last year for email policy violation.  Further, 23 percent of companies responded that their business had been impacted by the release of sensitive or embarrassing materials from within the company.  Of the largest companies, 34 percent report that their employee email was subpoenaed within the last year.

Companies aren’t just worrying about and watching employees' email communications, either.  Of all the companies surveyed, a surprising 27 percent reported that they lost confidential information through lost or stolen mobile devices within the last year.  In the past year 11 percent of companies reported disciplining employees for blogs or message boards.  In addition, 13 percent report punishing employees for inappropriate use of social networking sites and 14 percent report punishing employees for using media sharing sites.

Blogs are also under investigation these days.  Of the companies surveyed 14 percent of companies report investigating the release of material financial information (such as unannounced financial results) on blogs and message boards.

The unfortunate side effect of this trend is that it’s hard to tell companies are merely watching out for their own interests from companies who are looking to snoop inappropriately in employees personal lives.  The trend surely will leave many employees feeling a bit violated.

However, even those employees that are not subject to corporate monitoring may fall under the scope of increased government monitoring programs in the U.S. and abroad.  The UK government recently announced plans to try to collect its citizens' email, web, and phone history.  Web monitoring efforts here in the U.S. are also widely known.  People are having to face the somewhat unpleasant reality that their private lives online are becoming less and less private.



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RE: Violated?
By phattyboombatty on 5/22/2008 3:32:40 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If people are sending personal email using company equipment on the company network and through company servers, how can they feel violated if the company reads those emails?


You mean, if people are using the company's toilet in the company's restroom on the company's plumbing and sewer system, how can they feel violated if the company videotapes them doing it.


RE: Violated?
By Kenenniah on 5/22/2008 5:24:15 PM , Rating: 2
Are you actually comparing monitoring email to taping people using the restrooms? There's a huge difference between invading one's personal space (videotaping them undressed) and reading an email they chose to put on your server. There is a resonable expectation of privacy while using the bathroom, but bits of data they knowingly give to you?

No, monitoring email is more like videotapoing a naked employee because they were dumb enough to get undressed at a security entrance where they know a camera is recording.


RE: Violated?
By phattyboombatty on 5/22/2008 6:21:37 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Are you actually comparing monitoring email to taping people using the restrooms?

I was countering your argument that an employee is entitled to no privacy if they are using company property.
quote:
There's a huge difference between invading one's personal space

Many people would consider their personal space to include their private email messages.
quote:
and reading an email they chose to put on your server.

Most people don't consider the act of sending an email to another person as "putting an email on your server." I could just as easily say "that employee chose to place their urine in the company's toilet and I was entitled to watch it as the company's representative."
quote:
There is a resonable expectation of privacy while using the bathroom

Bingo. Now you're actually getting to the real argument. It's not whether or not the property belongs to the company, it's whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their interactions with that property.
quote:
but bits of data they knowingly give to you?

Again, most people sending emails wouldn't characterize it as giving bits of data to the IT guy down the hall. They believe they are sending the message to the person in the "To:" field. Just because a company has the physical capability to view an email message, does not mean the email sender is giving that message to the company.

You touched on the key argument briefly, which is whether an employee has an expectation of privacy. The answer is probably no, if the company discloses to the employee at the beginning of their employment that the company monitors all emails.


RE: Violated?
By Nfarce on 5/22/2008 8:20:40 PM , Rating: 1
Comparing taking a dump on a company toilet to sending personal emails on a company PC are two entirely different things. One is a bodily function that MUST be done as a human being. The other is a non-WORK related activity. Anyone who would even think about comparing the two is an idiot. Do you think corporate dress codes are a violation of your privacy too?

That's about the attitude I expect of today's youth who feel they are entitled to everything, INCLUDING a job. (Newsflash: that job belongs to the company, not you, sport).


RE: Violated?
By mindless1 on 5/22/2008 9:05:07 PM , Rating: 2
News flash - that job doesn't "belong" to the company, a job is an agreement between TWO parties.

Yes, "today's youth" are entitled to everything including a job and what they can afford from their wages, they are free to do whatever they like (inside the law else suffer the consequences)and have equal power as their employer. A workplace is not a prison camp, if an employer wants to be overly controlling they will find they have to either pay the employee enough to accept that or the employee will choose to leave.

The flip side of your mistaken idea is that employers feel they are entitled to make policies not necessary for the operation of their business. Walking onto someone's property does not make you become their property, there is never control of another human being in a free society, only an agreement with terms that both parties have to adhere to.


RE: Violated?
By Kenenniah on 5/22/2008 9:18:30 PM , Rating: 2
In a way we are kind of arguing different points. To put it more simply, the way I look at it is this.
What it boils down to in my opinion, is whether an employee has a right to use company computers for personal reasons. Since the company is paying for the computers etc., and providing them to the employee with a specific purpose (doing work), I argue that they don't have an inherent right for personal use. If they don't have the right for personal use, then how can they have a right to personal privacy on those machines?

In the bathroom scenario, the restrooms are provided for very specific purposes, which inherently include privacy for bodily functions. After all, that is one of the primary reasons bathrooms are provided. Even then, if for example there was reason to believe drug deals were being conducted in the restrooms, the company would find some way to investigate. Not cameras over the toilets for obvious reasons, but they'd find some other method.

In a general sense, using company equipment for personal use is stealing. While we don't care if an employee prints off a recipe once in awhile for example, it's entirely another matter if they are constantly printing out 500 page books. In effect they are stealing paper, ink/toner, printer wear and maintanence costs, productivity, and time from the company.

Even the IRS makes a distinction between business and personal use of company assets. I have to pay income taxes based on how much I use my company car for personal driving. One could argue that personal use of computer computers etc. should fall into the same category.

One other aspect often not mentioned, is that when using a work email account, the company's name is on every outgoing email sent. When sending that email, the employee is acting as a representative of the company, and the company can be held liable under some circumstances for what that employee does with his email and internet access.

I do agree with your general sentiment however. I believe companies need to draw lines and be careful with their policies. On the one hand you want to protect your company interests, but you do have to take employee morale into account. You don't want them feeling oppressed and thinking the company is watching their every little move. It's all about finding a balance. After all, happy employees are good from a caring AND business standpoint.


RE: Violated?
By teckytech9 on 5/23/2008 1:31:31 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
It's all about finding a balance.

The balance can be argued to the ownership of all employee emails, and for all generated emails for any company in question. This can be a sensitive issue since authority of ownership often lies with the CEO, CIO, or other company executives.

Companies as individual entities tend to keep most of its matters such as company perks, bonuses and stock options private. What is interesting in the whole process is that emails taken as a record of communications, can be deleted "at will" as well as the personnel contracts of its employees. Most employees enjoy company perks, especially "milking the cow" while its still there.


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