Software

Who owns corporate e-mail? Is there a right to privacy?

Does a user have a right to privacy when it comes to corporate e-mail? Or is e-mail corporate property, subject to the whims of the company? Here's one story, what's yours? And take the poll.

Does a user have a right to privacy when it comes to corporate e-mail? Or is e-mail corporate property, subject to the whims of the company? Here's one story. What's yours? And take the poll.

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I recently wrote a blog piece about using caution before hitting that e-mail Send button, and I shared an experience I had in that regard. Well, I was taken to task by a TR member because I didn't, I suppose, respect the privacy of the e-mail recipients. It was even compared to taking another person's mail from the post office — which, in my opinion, can't even be called a stretch to compare. I don't mind being taken to task for anything I might say, mind you, since not everyone agrees on everything with everyone, and I have pretty thick skin, capable of taking a bit of criticism (it comes with the territory). But I thought it might be an interesting subject to throw out there for comment and discussion.

In short, the company accountant accidentally sent some sensitive information to everyone in the office instead of just the corporate officers because the Reply to All button was selected instead of simply Reply. An honest mistake, to say the least, but one with potentially serious consequences. I was asked if it could be unsent, and I simply helped intercept the e-mails before they were downloaded by the users' Outlook.

In this particular case, the company in question clearly makes it known in written office policy documentation that when it comes to e-mail generated on and received by company computers, on company time, and using company resources, there should be no expectation of privacy, and any e-mail is subject to review.

The reason for this policy is two-fold. First, it's not to snoop and pry, per se, but rather to ensure anyone's project could be addressed by another person should the need arise. Nobody is in the office 100 percent of the time, and cases will come up when a person's e-mail will have to be accessed for some reason or another. The second reason, of course, is to make it perfectly clear that these are company resources, that personal activity should be kept to a minimum, and that the company reserves the right to access that e-mail account.

Some companies may not have such a written policy, but I might guess that in the absence of such, it might be an unspoken policy. Nonetheless, since I was questioned on this, I thought I'd create a poll and see what other TR members have experienced.

Take the poll and share your comments in the following discussion.

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