IT debates: should your boss be able to read your email?

Posted by MailGuard Editor on 18 July 2012 01:00:00 AEST


Do you, as the user of your work email address, have a right to privacy? Whether you like or not, your employer can set up the business email system so that they CAN read your email. But is it right?

To some employees, email monitoring is part and parcel of working life. They accept that you should only use your work email for work related things and expect their employer to have access.

But to others, email monitoring is being highly intrusive – a serious invasion of privacy. They feel that emails are personal and the boss should not be able to read them.

So what are the arguments on each side of the debate?


The case against your boss being able to read your emails

Some people have a problem with their boss being allowed to read their emails (and they definitely CAN). You might see it as a lack of trust and intrusive. You might consider information contained in your emails to be private and confidential. You may even feel that morale and productivity could both be impacted as a result.

To these people, the debate is very much framed along ethical and moral lines.


The case for your boss being able to read your emails

There is a strong case to support the notion when you dig a little. After all, a work email address is not the property of the user. Your employer owns the domain, your computer, the software, the mail server, the network and therefore, the email address too. And they pay you for the time you spend in the workplace.

What’s more, employers are legally responsible for the images and content residing in and passing through their networks. Monitoring email may be necessary to ensure compliance requirements are met, and in the event of an audit or a lawsuit.

If you accept these two points, you are most likely limiting the content of your work email to things that you wouldn’t mind your boss seeing or knowing about.


Email monitoring and the law

Email monitoring is at least in part protected by law in some states. In 2005 the State Government of New South Wales passed the Workplace Surveillance Bill which was designed to regulate monitoring in the workplace.

One of the key objectives of the bill was "to prohibit the surveillance by employers of their employees at work except by surveillance of which employees have been given notice...”

As you can see, it does not prohibit surveillance outright. Your boss can monitor your emails as long as you are notified that it’s taking place. It does, however, take a strong stance on monitoring without employees’ knowledge.


Have your say in the debate

The issue of monitoring email in the workplace is a grey area, both legally and morally. It’s fuelled significant debate – there’s plenty of discussion on the Whirlpool forums - see here and here.

What’s your view? Should an employer be able to read their employees’ email? Is email monitoring a necessary part of enforcing an acceptable usage policy? Or do you see it as an invasion of privacy?

Have your say in the comments section, below:


Topics: Email Phishing Data Privacy Business security business risk

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