Auditor's E-mail Blunder Raises Internet Policy Issues

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A major accounting firm recently got a glimpse into the darker side of the Internet when a young and socially-active auditor in its New York office accidentally sent a very personal e-mail to the wrong recipient.

The recipient sent the message to a friend, who sent it to another friend and so on. It was done almost apologetically and accompanied by expressions of sympathy, but soon a chain of gossipy confidantes had passed the e-mail literally around the world. The story was picked up by the press as far away as Australia, with no details omitted.

The upshot was a flurry of publicity that many image-conscious accounting firms would prefer to avoid, causing a stir in what may already be a hornet's nest of controversy over Internet policy issues. Questions raised by the incident include the following:

  • Repercussions for employees. Should e-mail accidents like this one affect an employee's performance evaluation, employment or career path? Should there be any repercussions for an employee who intentionally passes a sensitive e-mail along to others?
  • Mitigating circumstances. Would your answer change if the e-mail used a personal account instead of the accounting firm's e-mail address? or if the e-mail exchange involved an officer or employee of a client company?
  • Monitoring of employees' e-mail. Does the firm have the right to restrict personal use of its e-mail system and/or firm-issued laptop computers? Does it have the right to read e-mails sent to and from employees? Should it maintain e-mails on its servers even after the e-mails are deleted from individual laptops?

It is often seen as penny-wise and pound-foolish when a firm tries to limit personal usage of items, such as postage, paper clips and copy machines. Is personal use of the Internet different because of the potential for embarrassing situations? What can be done to protect firms and employees from these situations? If you have any comments or views, please use the link below to share your thoughts and reactions. -Rosemary Schlank

Here are a few articles that may be of interest that have appeared in the past AccountingWEB. Please note: Some of these articles may be part of the premium subscription package.

Should Firms Monitor Internet and E-mail Activity?

Sent the Wrong E-mail? Retrieve It Quickly Using Outlook

Secure Your E-Mail Messages on the Internet!

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