Email Privacy in the Biz World

The question of e-mail privacy in the workplace came up Monday, so I
thought I'd post a summary of a C/Net report, "Privacy in the Digital Age,"
that discussed
Internet privacy in the corporate world:

1. Courts, so far, have overwhelmingly supported employers in cases of
workplace monitoring. Among the cases disscussed:

Flanagan et al. vs. Epson America, Inc.: state court ruled email was
not covered by California's wiretapping statute and that the right to
privacy guaranteed by the state constitution covered personal but not
business information.

Michael A. Smyth vs. The Pillsbury Company: A U.S. District Court in
Pennsylvania upheld the company's right to subsequently read all the
manager's email--despite the fact that Pillsbury had repeatedly assured its
employees that their email was confidential and would not be intercepted.
The court said, "The company's interest in preventing inappropriate and
unprofessional comments or even illegal activity over its email system
outweighs any privacy interest the employee may have." The court
differentiated searching through an employee's email account from an
invasion of an individual's person, personal information, or personal

2. A December 1995 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM)
found that 36 percent of organizations that provide email look at their
employees' email records for business necessity or security; 8 percent
conduct random reviews of the email. And 75 percent responded that
employers should have the right to read company-provided email.

3. A study released on April 2, 1996, by Network World magazine found that
70 percent of executives surveyed believe their employees use the Net for
entertainment on company time.

4. Companies snoop because of the following concerns: -- loss of
productivity, -- security
concerns, -- fear of a lawsuit because of employee email or Web activity.

5. The report, though, questions the Internet really provides a greater
chance for employees to slack off, disclose services and company secrets,
and harass one another. So why should the Internet be singled out for
special consideration? C/Net says the answer depends on whether employers
view the Net as a toy or a tool--and how much they trust their employees.

*       Joey Senat                                          *
*       Doctoral Student                                    *
*       School of Journalism & Mass Communication           *
*       University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill          *
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*       E-Mail:  jsenat@email.unc.edu                       *
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