Ethical Management of E-mail Privacy
As I am sitting at my work station in a crowded office building, I hear the wonderful sound of "You've got mail." In turn I open my E-mail mailbox and find a letter from a nearby employee. This letter contains the usual funny joke of the day and a short joke ridiculing the boss, as usual. Who was to know that my supervisor would eventually find this letter, which would lead to both the termination of my job and my fellow employee? Do you feel this is right?
Does this sound common? This may sound common because the issue of E-mail and privacy is very common and controversial in our advanced technological world. The determination of what is ...view middle of the document...
Employees may not realize how easily their bosses and coworkers can access their E-mail. Many high-tech firms are even able to retrieve messages that the employees think they have permanently deleted. An article in the magazine, Business First, makes a good point, "Don't put anything in E-mail that you would not want read over the loud speaker throughout the company" (Miller 2).
Although many computers and company E-mail accounts have passwords, it does not mean that they are protected. System administrators can access almost anyone's E-mail. According to a web page on the Internet, "The only way to protect your E-mail would be to regard your E-mail as you would a postcard." People must realize that unlike other forms of communication, E-mail has little protection, such as telephone companies do (Learn the Net
1). This provides the employer with the ability to monitor someone's E-mail without them even knowing.
The topic of E-mail is so current that it even hit the meeting of the Long Island Direct Marketing Association (LIDMA) on October 22, 1998. At the meeting privacy issues concerning E-mail in the workplace were discussed. A local attorney, Martin
Gringer, Esg., explained the need for employees to understand that their e-mail may not be private and they should look into company policy before sending something which may "later come back to haunt them" (Hoke III 43).
The general view from business corporations is that they have a right to check their employees' E-mails. Many businesses, such as American Airlines, Federal Express, Eastman Kodak and UPS, regard employee E-mail as corporate property. They retain the right to investigate employee E-mail as often as they feel necessary (Rainone and Spinior 35).
Many of these organizations feel that E-mail monitoring is a necessity: They pay for the service and believe they own the property rights. Such rights would consist of the right to search employee computer files, voice mail, E-mail and other networking communications. An employer is also free to intercept E-mail messages if necessary to protect the company's right, property or ability to conduct business (Eberly 22).
On the other hand employees feel that searches and invasions of E-mails are an invasion of their own privacy. Because of the potential for negative consequences resulting from the organization's action, the practice of E-mail monitoring may be viewed as unethical (CNET 1).
Employees often contend that E-mail is analogous to the U.S. mail and users are entitled to the same privacy expectations as persons transmitting written communications via the U.S. Postal Service (Meyerhoff 31).
Whether it is legal or not, the truth is that many employers now routinely monitor E-mail their employees send and receive. Some E-mail systems copy all messages that pass through them and others create backup copies of new messages as they arrive. Workers who logically assume their...