Your privacy in the workplace is a hot topic in today's digital world. Yet, most employees don't realize the extent that companies are able to monitor their use of computer resources. Dow Chemical Company recently fired approximately 40 employees for violations of its corporate electronic mail policy. Earlier this year, 50 others were fired from the company's Michigan headquarters.
It's not just electronic mail that companies monitor. Every keystroke you hit on your computer is capable of being logged and monitored. Software allows supervisors to easily monitor the web sites their employees visit and the time spent there. In a recent American Management Association survey, three out of four employers said they use electronic surveillance to monitor their employees' Internet use.
So why all the snooping? Most companies believe that they are losing productivity due to our all-new digital world. In fact, almost 70 % of executives in a recent survey thought that their employees use the Internet for personal reasons on company time. Another reason is that companies are growing more concerned they may be held liable for their employee's improper use of electronic mail and the Internet.
Presently, no legislation specifically addresses Internet privacy in the workplace. The courts typically side with employers in cases of monitoring their employee's digital activity. Although most of the cases to date involve monitoring of e-mail, it is likely that the results would be similar for monitoring of all aspects of the system. As more companies institute policies concerning monitoring of computer systems, specific legislation addressing monitoring in the workplace is a possibility.
How do you protect your privacy? The answer is to use good old-fashioned commonsense. Don't send confidential and personal information through your company's electronic mail system. A number of Internet search engines offer free electronic mail accounts. Obtain a separate account for your personal electronic mail, leaving your corporate account for work-related communications. If you are unsure about your company's specific policies regarding electronic monitoring and personal use of the Internet, the best policy is to find out before going online. In any case, remember that most systems store copies or logs of your digital footprints, so don't rely on the almighty delete key to cover your path.
Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.EPIC.org) is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (www.privacyrights.org) is a California-based organization formed in 1992. The Clearinghouse has produced many fact sheets and an annual report. It also maintains a toll free hotline to provide advice to consumers about their rights. PRC's fact sheets offer practical, consumer-oriented information on topics ranging from cellular-phone eavesdropping to employee monitoring.