CORPORATE AMERICA SPYING …..ON YOU !!!
CORPORATE AMERICA SPYING …..ON YOU !!!
2005-02-15 at 9:54:00 am #10270Big Brother: It’s not government, but corporate
America doing the spyingSEATTLE — George Orwell had it wrong.
It’s not government that is emerging as the clearest
embodiment of Big Brother — the all-seeing, all-knowing entity in Orwell’s novel
“1984″ — but Corporate America.
With technology either already available or on its way,
corporations can block your e-mail from particular senders. They can stop you
from printing documents deemed too sensitive. And they can record and review the
instant-messaging conversations that workers have with other co-workers.
“People worry a lot about the FBI spying on them,” said
Lewis Maltby, president of National Workrights Institute. “But your chances of
being spied on by the FBI are one in a million. Your chances of being spied on
by your boss are better than 50-50.”
Spying? Microsoft, America Online and others who are
developing the technology say hardly.
Rather, they say, companies have the right to monitor how
their computers and networks are used. Companies need more control to beef up
computer security, limit cyberattacks and block loads of junk e-mail, they said.
Also, some industries, such as financial services and health care, face federal
requirements to record communications.
Others worry about the effect of so much corporate control
on employees’ privacy. With few — and outdated — laws in place, they say,
employers’ ability to monitor instant-messages and Internet-based calls is
creeping uncomfortably close to policing basic conversation.
“There’s just a train wreck that’s coming,” said Ted
Schadler, an analyst with technology research firm Forrester Research.
Network administrators’ need for greater control for
regulatory compliance and security must be balanced against the public policy
concerns of privacy, Schadler said. “It’s going to take a few painful lawsuits.”
Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo have developed or are preparing to
roll out corporate versions of their popular instant-message services. All have
the ability to archive instant-messages that employees send. Other features
vary. Some allow the network administrators to determine who may message whom in
the company directory, blocking off, for instance, access to the chief executive
by rank-and-file employees.
MessageGate, a Bellevue spin-off from aerospace
manufacturer Boeing, offers junk e-mail filtering software. It identifies, flags
and seizes e-mails that contain suspect phrases for review by a designated
compliance officer. It will soon do the same for instant messages.
Microsoft is developing its Windows Rights Management
technologies, which can restrict whether employees can view, print or forward
e-mails and files. The technology is designed to help companies keep their
intellectual property from leaking to competitors or the public, Microsoft said.
Critics contend it is yet another way businesses are
emerging as Big Brother and wielding more control over employees.
There are few laws that protect employees’ privacy rights
in the workplace, the National Workrights Institute’s Maltby said.
“It’s the Wild West,” he said. “Employers can do whatever
With most of these products slated to be released later
this year, it’s unclear how and how many companies will use the technology. But
in recent years, companies including The New York Times, Dow Chemical,
Xerox and others have fired employees for Internet use deemed inappropriate.
A 1986 federal law says employers cannot deliberately
listen to personal telephone calls that someone might make at work. Some states
have passed laws requiring employers to notify employees that their e-mail may
be monitored. But there’s little else, critics say.
That means it’s up to employers to decide how far is too
“It’s a completely legitimate concern,” said David Weld,
chief executive of MessageGate, the message-filtering company.
So are the corporate fears of hacker attacks and government
demands for recording communications, he said.
Without corporate instant-message applications that allow
for greater control and security, some companies consider completely shutting
off access to any IM programs, said Ed Simnett, lead product manager for
Microsoft’s Live Communictions Server, which hosts the instant-messaging
capabilities from workers’ desktop computers.
“Employers need to manage IM use, just as they do e-mail
use,” said Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute and author
of E-Mail Rules.
“It’s not a matter of Big Brother reading over employees’
electronic shoulders,” she wrote in an e-mail seeking comment. “Rules, policies
and monitoring tools are designed to protect the company’s assets (human and
financial), future and reputation.”
But the casual, conversation-like quality of
instant-messaging makes monitoring an even bigger threat to employees’ privacy,
said Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation
“You really are just chatting,” he said, which can prove to
be “a bigger minefield for the person who’s being surveilled.”
Much of the concern comes down to the reality that network
administrators “are people like everybody else,” Maltby said. “We all know we’re
not supposed to read other people’s letters but how many people would yield to
the notion of not reading other people’s e-mail.”
Ultimately, it may be a matter of maturing in how they use
instant-message applications just as they have in e-mailing, said Joe Wilcox,
senior analyst with New York-based Jupiter Research. “When we move into an era
of IM being logged, you need to develop new IM habits.”
The debate may soon revolve around real conversation. Tech
companies are trying to improve the quality of making voice calls over the
Internet. That could offer major cost savings for businesses on their phone
bills, said Richard Doherty, director of the research firm Envisioneering Group
in Seaford, N.Y.
It also promises another area of potential conflict with
Such calls aren’t exactly telephone calls and so might not
receive the protections employees have when using telephone networks, Doherty
said. The laws “were written for an era that was telegraph and telephone,” he
said. “Now we’re in an era of telephone and computer and believe me, the laws
are not written for a computer.”