Online monitoring on the rise

The Extent of Systematic Monitoring of Employee E-mail and Internet Use

Be careful what you do online: Someone may be watching you.

Fourteen million employees have their Internet or e-mail use under continuous surveillance at work, according to a study released July 9 by the Privacy Foundation. This equates to more than one-third of the online workforce in the United States.

The study looked at sales of monitoring products in the corporate and government markets. It found that more than any other factor, the low cost of the technology is driving the growth of e-mail and Internet surveillance in the workplace.

Activities that potentially pose a large concern to employers, such as telephone use, are not yet monitored to this extent—except in call centers—the study found.

It's possible to pay less than $10 per year per monitored employee, the study found. For instance, the Army recently purchased a 200,000-seat installation from Websense Inc., including hardware, for $1.8 million. That amounts to about $9 per employee.

Sales of employee-monitoring software are worth about $140 million a year, the study noted.

Systematic e-mail and Internet monitoring in the workplace is still a "relatively new phenomenon," the study found, with "reverberations yet to come in labor law and human resources, as well as employee behavior and morale." The study did not address whether employers are giving employees sufficient notice of the monitoring.

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