Protection for Whom?

April 30, 1998

E-mail is a hybrid communication, combining the casual nature of chat with the formal trail of paper. Not many people have ever taught others how to use it effectively, leaving companies and individuals to face the consequences.

The idea of banning ‘snooping’ implies that companies have banks of e-mail checkers, wading through hundreds of thousands of transactions every day. Of course, this is impracticable. Filtering or security software must play a part. To implement such a system requires a policy, which should be clearly communicated to employees. If traffic is scanned against the policy, and the software only picks up those mails that are outside the guidelines, then there is no need for human intervention. There is also therefore no invasion of privacy.

The other question to ask is who benefits from so-called ‘snooping’? While pessimists will insist it is to give employers a further hold over staff, those who take a more optimistic view of human nature see such a policy as a way of protecting employees from mistakes.

Often employees do not even read all the attachments to e-mails that are forwarded to others. The salary details on message number 12, the competitive data on attachment 23? For every case of malicious, intent such as a virus, there is one of an employee e-mailing sensitive information without knowing it. Putting paper in an envelope is a wilful act; mailing at the click of a button can be done without even looking at the screen. ‘Send’ has become a four-letter word.

Whatever the intent of the Information Commission, ignorance is no defence. We should all be protected from this technology that none of us have yet fully mastered.

Paul Rutherford is Chief Marketing Officer at Clearswift.