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PRIVACY @WORK?

CYBERSPACE, 2004 (D.O.T.) - Chances are very high that your boss--and even your boss's boss--is reading your e-mail. Privacy at work? You don't have any!

California recently tried to pass a law to enforce employee privacy, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The measure would have protected the privacy of employees' Internet and e-mail usage at work. Had it passed, the state's employers would have been required to provide "clear and conspicuous" notice before electronically monitoring the e-mail or Internet usage of employees. But Schwarzenegger shot down the bill, insisting companies need the prerogative of monitoring their employee activities. Welcome to the land of Big Brother .

PCWorld.com reporter Daniel Tynan warns that work space is not private space. "In fact, if you think you have any real privacy on the job, you're laboring under a delusion," he writes.

Tynan has identified 10 common myths about electronic privacy at work. Here are five of them:

1. Companies don't spy on employees.
According to the American Management Association, nearly two-thirds of companies actively monitor where their employees go on the Web, 52 percent scan e-mail, and one in five keeps an eye on instant messaging.

2. I would know if the company was spying on me.
Since such electronic monitoring is done at the network level, employers are not under a legal obligation to tell you it's being done. The one exception: Connecticut . State law requires employers to notify workers. Your best bet is to ask your boss for a written policy.

3. As long as I don't visit the "bad” sites, surfing at work is fine.
Tynan urges caution, advising employees to find out the company policy on what is considered reasonable personal use of the Web at work. Also, you might want to try to get a specific definition of what's safe for work and what's not. If in doubt, don't go there!

4. My e-mail conversations are none of my boss's business.
Well, they are if you're using your company's computer and your company's e-mail system and your company's Internet connection. The AMA says that 60 percent of companies that monitor e-mail usage, scan messages for keywords and then block sensitive material from going out. Almost half of big companies have actually hired people to read corporate e-mail.

5. I can do anything I want, as long as I delete the evidence.
That's not likely to work. The "evidence" is still in your Recycle Bin and even if you delete it from there, the files can easily be recovered unless they've been overwritten with other data. And if you use the corporate network, your e-mail and the contents of your hard drive are probably archived on backup media--where they can sit for years.

Here's the takeaway: Get caught doing something naughty on the Net or in e-mail and you can be terminated for it. The AMA warns that 25 percent of the companies it surveyed in 2004 fired employees for violating corporate e-mail policies, up from 22 percent in 2003 and 17 percent in 2001.

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