Generally I am quite militant about privacy and personal
freedom. And I think they are also good for business. But in
the case of office e-mail its quite clear that a company has
a right to read, check and control all correspondence, by all
employees, sent or received on its behalf. On the other hand
employers should not be allowed to interfere with the
personal life of employees or intercept their private communication.
The solution is conceptually simple: separate identities.
Its quite surprising that many companies (including some
that have fairly strict procedures about almost everything)
are ignoring this problem. I dont think its because it
gives them a right to spy on people. They are
just being careless. Results, sometimes, are quite funny.
Personal messages come with elaborate tags dictated by a
corporate legal office; or with disclaimers such as
this reflects only the personal opinion of
Using a corporate mailbox for personal mail is not like
calling home and saying Ill be late at the
office. Its like writing private correspondence on the
companys letterhead. Therefore people (if they use the net
privately as well as for business) should have at least two
mailboxes. That helps, by the way, to keep mail files tidy.
People should also have a right (if they so choose) to use
encryption for private mail to which the employer doesnt
have a key. Just as they have a private key to a drawer in
Someone could argue that people shouldnt be encouraged
to write too much personal mail from the office. But thats a
separate story. If they have time to waste they could do
crossword puzzles or chat on the phone (or online). There are
some ridiculous ideas around, such as the German tax
authorities demanding that time spent online during work
hours (or anyhow on company owned systems) be treated (and
taxed) as compensation while of course thats impossible
to measure, or even to estimate reasonably. Bureaucracy is not
the answer. But separation of identities can help.
Even management should not use office mailboxes
(letterhead) for private correspondence. And, on
the other hand, senior people should be able to use protected
systems in order to discuss confidential matters in a
restricted environment. Thats not very easy, but
secure systems exist and they should be used when
Its surprising how lackadaisical many people are about
confidential matters. Taxi drivers and restaurant waiters
probably know more corporate (and personal) secrets than most
professional spies. E-mail, of course, travels openly on the
net. And many confidential files are kept on networked
computers with such poor protection that it doesnt take a
great hacker to read them.
Of course many companies cant afford to manage their own
server with their own security. But they should be more
careful about how their systems are hosted. With
all the hype about e-business. and the lack of expertise in
most organizations, outsourcing can be a
reasonable concept; but too many companies fall into the trap
of suppliers (or software vendors) who say dont worry,
Ill do it all for you. It doesnt work; and the
companys identity, trading standards, reliability,
responsibilities and relationships (as well as information
that shouldnt be revealed too soon to competitors)
are in the hands of someone else. Is that a trusted and committed
partner or some generic, standardized and leaky pipeline?
Security isnt the only problem. Companies can lose
control of operations and allow outsiders to warp their identities.
The internet is no short-term fad. Its here to stay.
Companies (and people) should lean to be in better control of
their communication. Distinct mailboxes wont solve all of
the problems, but they are a good starting point. If we know
where and how things are happening, its easier to know where
to set the partitions. And it isnt expensive. Anyone drawing
a decent salary can afford a personal internet connection
(even were free online services are not
available). Or, even better... its a small cost for a
company to give a personal mailbox to all its employees
and encourage them to use it.
The more familiar they become with the internet at home,
the more efficient they will be when they use it for business.