ethics of business regarding computer technology. The writer focuses on the issue of email privacy and whether employers have the right to read and act on private email sent by employees from their workstations. The writer explores both sides of the issue and the laws that have pertained thus far. There were four sources used to complete this paper.
The technological explosion of the last few decades has taken the world to heights that were never before imagined. Today, with the click of a mouse one can handle their stocks, plan their vacations, and purchase goods from around the world and chat with others across the ocean. It is an era of wonder and excitement but it brings with it ethical questions that have never before been asked. The technological explosion has allowed businesses to go global in their efforts. Communication has become instantaneous with the click of a button. Employees can discuss projects and communicate with their superiors and their subordinates alike. With this ability comes a question of privacy and ethics. Recent court cases have centered on what the rights are of a company when it comes to the private email of an employee. The debate focuses on whether or not a company has the right to open, read, intercept or act on email information that has been sent or received on a work owned computer. The answer is yes but there will be many debates about the issue before it becomes universally accepted. If the company owns the computer, and the internet service by which the email is sent and received, then the product (email) being transferred through the company means belongs to the company.
According to a study conducted for Elron Software by NFO Worldwide, a research firm in Stamford, Conn., 85% of workers say they use company e-mail to send and receive personal messages, and 56% of employees who have access to the Internet say they receive e-mail that is sexist, racist, or of an inappropriate religious nature. Worse yet, one in ten receives e-mail that contains confidential company information (Bronwyn, 1999). "
These statistics illustrate the magnitude of the issue revolving around email privacy rights. An employee who is job hunting and planning on leaving the current company might shoot off a resume to a potential employer, while another company may have problems with a worker sharing confidential information with their competitor. These and other issues have begun to surface, leading to the ethical question regarding email and ownership.
Many court cases have been heard about the ethics of monitoring email and online activity because the employees who bring the action feel it is a violation of their privacy. The businesses counter with the fact that email is no different than a company circulated memo. If it is done using company equipment, which a company computer is, then the company has the right to own anything that is contained within it.
A recent study by the American Management Association concluded that two-thirds of businesses in the country monitor their employee email on a regular basis. Surveillance technology has developed software allowing the electronic monitoring of email and the software sales for such products is expected to increase (Kelly, 2001). There are several reasons for the monitoring of employee email including concern over legal liability and the desire to monitor productivity of their paid work hours. "Beyond productivity concerns, employers scrutinize employee email and web usage to avoid or mitigate potential legal liability for workplace sexual-harassment claims. Courts are increasingly finding employers liable for sexually harassing, hostile work environments when their employees use company equipment to transmit offensive e-mail or sexually explicit pictures (Kelly, 2001). "
The premise of the rulings is that the company owns the equipment and the service by which the offenses are being sent therefore the company is responsible legally. This provides a solid argument for the rights of the company to invade and intercept email for the purpose of monitoring their company liability exposure.
In most cases the courts have upheld the right of employers to monitor and intercept and act on any electronic transmission to or from one of their employees on company property. It has been considered a condition of employment for many years.
Firms in Europe and the U.S. spend millions of U.S. dollars on lawsuits arising out…
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