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Internet and Email Monitoring

Most employers these days have policies that permit them to monitor employees' email and use of the Internet. According to news reports, a large percentage of employers actually monitor. American Management Association 2001 Survey. The reported figures always seem high, and I suspect employers are really reporting that they review employee Internet use and email in conjunction with internal investigations or discovery requests - not that they are routinely monitoring employee activities. Most employers simply do not have the resources to monitor on an ongoing basis. However, technological advances promise to make it much easier to do this kind of monitoring. 

Programs for monitoring internet and/or email:

A company called United Messaging offers outsourced email services that can include "Rules . . . applied to all inbound and outbound messages that check for offensive or unauthorized content." In other words, the company's system scans all incoming and outgoing email for specific words, and the list can be customized by the company to include trigger words that might indicate employee misconduct.  

"eSniff puts your organization back in control of the Internet. The eSniff device is not a site blocker but a plug-and-play appliance that sits passively on your network. It analyzes all traffic--even e-mail--for activity or content that the company has specifically defined as inappropriate. It then captures a copy of and produces a detailed report on each network abuse, giving management the information they need to take corrective action."

As the ability to monitor employee email and other activity becomes more and more sophisticated, we are inevitably going to run into more real and philosophical questions about what is appropriate employer behavior and what goes beyond the kind of intrusion on personal matters that society will tolerate. As the law stands today (particularly the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)), employers seemingly have wide discretion and power (subject to any state laws to the contrary) to monitor business-related employee communications in the workplace, as long as they have proper policies in place. This kind of power needs to be used carefully and judiciously. In counseling our clients, we should endeavor to ensure that the employer's enthusiasm for the kind of monitoring that is possible does not cause them to lose sight of their employees' and society's expectations regarding what is reasonable. See ABA Journal Article - April 2001

Just because technology allows us to do something doesn't mean it's a good idea to do it. 



Last updated: 05/17/01


Copyright 2001-2005 David A. Munn