Risk
6/2/2006
05:02 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Monitoring Employees' Outbound E-Mail Doesn't Make You Big Brother

Many of you are deeply involved in privacy initiatives at your company, and you know better than anyone else that it's a very complex and touchy issue, and that it can be hard to find credible information that helps you achieve those important objectives. And while I wish it were otherwise, the nonsense that many media outlets pump out about this critical subject makes it easy for me to understand why so many people don't trust journalists as much as they used to--or even at all. This isn't an e

Many of you are deeply involved in privacy initiatives at your company, and you know better than anyone else that it's a very complex and touchy issue, and that it can be hard to find credible information that helps you achieve those important objectives. And while I wish it were otherwise, the nonsense that many media outlets pump out about this critical subject makes it easy for me to understand why so many people don't trust journalists as much as they used to--or even at all. This isn't an easy admission from someone who's toiled in the field for almost 30 years, but some of the crap being cranked out today under the heading of "news" reminds me of how Oscar Wilde described fox hunting: "The unthinkable in pursuit of the inedible."

Let me share with you the latest "news" from Reuters--and before you read this, sit down and take a deep breath cause it's a real shocker: "According to a new study, about a third of big companies in the United States and Britain hire employees to read and analyze outbound e-mail as they seek to guard against legal, financial, or regulatory risk." Well stop the danged presses, huh? What will Reuters bring us next--maybe an expose on how teenagers use IM more than traditional e-mail?

Now in itself, that quote isn't such a big deal because I don't think most people expect a lot of high-impact information from Reuters about business technology. But check out the opening sentence from that Reuters dog-bites-man yawner: "Big Brother is not only watching but he is also reading your e-mail." Yes, score another one for the "objective" mainstream media. All the effort you and your colleagues have put into trying to secure your e-mail systems is, in the eyes of Reuters, nothing more than a devious and subversive effort to trample privacy and civil liberties.Who can blame you folks for being extremely skeptical of anything you read?

First this Reuters reporter cites a study saying that about one-third of all respondent companies said "their business was hurt by the exposure of sensitive or embarrassing information in the past 12 months." Because about 99.99% of all companies probably don't want to be hurt by such exposures, many businesses are taking steps to prevent such incidents--isn't that a good thing? In most circles, that would be seen as wise, prudent, and appropriate. But not in the conspiracy-obsessed mind of this reporter, who like so many "objective" reporters in the mainstream media today sees only what he wants to see and reports only what he wants the conclusion to be.

So Reuters hauls out the hackneyed cliche of Big Brother--a linguistic touch here that is, to paraphrase Wilde, the inappropriate in support of the unintelligent--to cram some phony sizzle into an otherwise pointless story. Most companies today make it unmistakably clear to employees that e-mail messages written on company equipment and transmitted over company networks are the property of the company and not the individual--yet, true to form, Reuters depicts this basic safeguarding as bogeyman businesses snooping into "your" e-mail.

Well, here's our pledge: We at InformationWeek and TechWeb and Network Computing and other CMP technology sites promise we'll spare you this type of twisted nonsense, and we promise we won't link to useless stories like this one from Reuters (except to criticize them), and we promise we'll focus on giving you the information you want and need, rather than on what we think will get a phony rise out of you. So let us know what you think, and don't pay any attention to these linguistic hallucinations from the hypemeisters at Reuters.

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