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A Reprehensible Man

Originally published July 28, 2005

The other day I spoke at a conference on unstructured data and what one does with it. As a standard practice with conferences, the feedback from the audience was forwarded to me. One of the attendees stated—“I find the implication that management will read our email to be offensive.” The implication was that I was a reprehensible person for even suggesting that corporate management should examine the communications channels of the corporation.

Let’s examine the realities. First, and you don’t have to agree with me on this, the truth is that corporate management has the legal right to look at all corporate communications, including email. This is not an opinion—this is a fact.

Second, recent studies indicate that corporations are doing exactly that—looking at employee email. A recent ProofPoint study indicates that today corporations of more than 1,000 people hire monitors to look at email at the rate of 36 percent. The same survey indicates that the number is projected to reach 62 percent. This means that almost two thirds of the corporations in America are already exercising their rights to look at employee email.

As further evidence, a recent USA Today article (Tuesday, June 14, 2005, Money) cited another study done by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute whose results showed that today 55 percent of corporations retain and review employee email.

So obviously employees  are being naďve if they believe that corporations will not monitor their email.

Reality—corporate email belongs to the corporation and as such, management has the right to monitor it. Most companies have a corporate email policy which also encompasses other employee communications. The policy advises all employees that there is no right to privacy in these communications.

There are good reasons for corporations to monitor what their employees are communicating. Some of the reasons why corporations want to have this surveillance are:

  • Terrorism: It is incredible to think that an employee has the right to use corporate email to plot an act of terrorism. The corporation has every right to know if there is any hint of terrorist activities, going through its email system.
  • Regulation: Corporate management has a legal obligation to know what is being said by the corporation, including those communications that flow through the email environment. This is not optional, although a lot of corporations have yet to understand their legal obligations in this area. Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA and Basel II—are just a few examples.
  • Business: In some cases there is a significant liability associated with conversations made by corporate employees. For example, suppose a corporation dispenses medical advice over the phone or by email. This is an opportunity fraught with liability. It is strongly recommended and in the best interest of the corporation to know what is being said and to keep careful records.
  • Trade secrets or secret material: In many corporations there are trade secrets and secret material. The last thing the corporation wants is for its employees to reveal that information to others. It is in the corporation’s best interest to protect itself by monitoring employee email; and
  • Press leaks: on occasion sensitive financial information is uncovered. The corporation does not want this material leaked to the press. If it is leaked, the consequences may be great. It is in the corporation’s best interest to look at communications, including email.

It is not reprehensible for employers to monitor email. In fact, if employees want private email, they need to buy their own computers, buy their own software and sign up for their own Internet service. Then, and only then, are they entitled to email privacy. If they use corporate resources, they have no legal right to email privacy.

I am only the messenger. Please do not blame me for the contents of this message. For the person that said that looking at employee’s email was wrong, my message to you is that you need to pull your head out of the sand. Corporations have the "legal right" to monitor all employee email!

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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