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Keeping a close watch

THE main focus of workplace surveillance is employee use of Internet and email facilities, according to studies carried out over the past year.

The American Management Association’s 2001 Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance Survey found that the monitoring of Internet connections and the storage and review of email messages were the top two forms of employee monitoring that took place in American companies.

A survey undertaken this year by UK-based workplace analysis firm, the Work Foundation, found that two-thirds of all British employers now monitored the use of Internet resources by their employees. The survey also found that 66 per cent of respondents monitored website access and 65 per cent scrutinised incoming email messages.

So why such a high level of surveillance?

Recently released results from The Computer Security Institute’s (CSI) seventh annual Computer Crime and Security Survey notes an alarming level of employee misuse of company Internet access and email facilities. The survey found that 78 per cent of US companies had detected employee abuse of Internet access privileges. This included the downloading of pornography, the distribution of pirated software and the inappropriate use of email systems.

This level has remained consistent for several years. One particularly well-known survey conducted in mid-2000 by New York human resources company, Vault.com, found that over 80 per cent of employees sent and received non-work-related emails each working day. Of these, 50 per cent said they had received sexually explicit or otherwise improper emails in the workplace at one time or another.

The survey also found that 47 per cent of employees surfed non-work-related web sites for 30 minutes or more on a daily basis.

Internet abuse and misuse trends in Australia are consistent with those from overseas. The 2002 Australian Computer Crime and Security Survey found that 80 per cent of the companies surveyed had experienced insider abuse of Internet access or email.

Although the costs attributed to this abuse were lower for Australian companies than in other parts of the world, such as the US, the survey’s final report predicted that this would change in the near future.

The final report suggested that Australian companies stood to incur considerable future financial losses attributable to spamming, distribution of pirated or offensive material, on-line gambling and pornography.

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