30 July 2004 Almost half of large American companies employ staff to monitor and read outgoing emails, for fear of employees sending confidential information, trade secrets or inappropriate material, according to Forrester Research.
The survey, based on interviews with 140 senior staff at North American corporations, found that 44% of large companies pay someone to read emails sent by staff and 48% pay someone to regularly audit email content, which could carry important legal and security implications, warn legal experts.
The financial and legal risks of outgoing email were found to be the reasons for human monitoring, with nearly 75% of companies describing them as “important” or “very important” over the coming year – despite the fact that 52% claimed to already use software to automatically monitor instant messages and web-based email.
The business services, transport and logistics sectors had the highest levels of human surveillance, followed by the goods manufacturing industry.
And the trend is increasing, according to the survey, with 9.3% of all companies not currently monitoring staff emails – and 12.8% of large companies – intending to employ a person for this purpose in the near future.
However, this type of surveillance activity in the UK would cause huge legal problems for companies under the Data Protection Act, warned Rosemary Jay, a data protection specialist with international law firm Masons.
“It is essential that those who have access to other people’s emails are properly trained to understand their responsibilities to ensure confidentiality and security,” she said. “If employees fail to do so, the employer may fall foul of the Data Protection Act among other legal requirements.”
Human email monitoring also carries huge security implications, Jay added, since individuals are often the weakest link in the security chain.