Many people who use business email every day have no idea of what their privacy rights are concerning the messages they send and receive. There is only one thing that you, as the end user, must truly understand with regard to company email – whoever owns the server, owns the email.
A company’s computer network is a business asset that the company owns and allows its employees to use to further the corporate interests of the business. Most of the major courts around the world agree that email sent or received by an employee to further the company’s goals and saved on that company’s servers and workstations may be reviewed or monitored at will by the owners. That being said, any company that utilizes a mail server should publish a policy to set ground rules for privacy expectations when using company email. Even with a firmly established email policy the line starts to get blurry when employees start using the company email for personal communication.
There have been many situations where an employee has brought a lawsuit against his or her employer because of actions taken as a result of information gathered against them through email monitoring. In the case of McLaren V. Microsoft, the court of appeals in Dallas ruled that an employer was justified in cracking the password and reviewing emails that were saved in a password protected folder created by an employee. The decision was reached mainly because of the fact that the email had been sent and received on the company network and saved on their servers.
There are a few laws that protect the rights of employees’ email privacy on corporate computer networks, but nearly all of these are only applied to government offices and employees. The private sector is unregulated. Only California has laws that extend the protections of the Constitution to the private sector.
Using your employers’ computer network should be considered a privilege that is extended to you so you can get your work done in an efficient and professional manner. Users who accept that privilege should understand that all traffic that they generate could be reviewed by their employer. Most of this monitoring can be done automatically through the use of various filters which scan traffic for various flags. These flags are things like sexual content, offensive language, and so on. Think of the contents of your company email like giving a public speech. The next time you go to send out that personal email using your company email account you should think about the tone, content, and overall meaning of the message and ask yourself if this email be professional enough to recite in public in front of a group of strangers.