Should Firms Monitor Internet and E-mail Activity?

Despite the inherent privacy invasion, companies are now and will continue to monitor the Internet use of their employees. However, should all employees live in a Big Brother environment simply because one or two are likely to break the rules?

A study just released by the Privacy Foundation, reports that 35 percent of U.S. companies engage in continuous monitoring of the electronic activities of their employees.

The regular monitoring of Internet and e-mail communications in the workplace is a relatively new phenomenon, with after effects yet to come in labor law and human resources, as well as employee behavior and morale.

Fourteen million employees -- just over one-third of the online workforce in the United States -- have their Internet or e-mail use under continuous surveillance at work. Worldwide, the number of employees under such surveillance is at 27 million, just over one-quarter of the global online workforce. The online workforce is those employees who have Internet and/or e-mail access at work, and use it regularly.

Monitoring an entire workplace in order to catch slackers, deter inappropriate Web surfing, or perhaps to flush out criminal behavior, may strike some employers as sensible. But it may also instill an air of suspicion and hostility into the workplace. Furthermore, the monitoring of an entire workplace to protect the organization from liability for hostile environment lawsuits may be creating its own risk for employers. By tracking and storing a detailed audit trail of employee activities, organizations may by unintentionally stockpiling large amounts of potential evidence that could be used against them in future litigation.

Tell us what you think. Should companies monitor all Internet and e-mail activity? Does your firm currently monitor employee activities?

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