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The only thing that your employer can monitor is what happens on the computer that the employer provides, so keep your work and personal lives separate.

Let's say an employer is in the internet security industry. He routinely monitors employee mail at their office address. Since he knows all about hacking, he can no doubt monitor their personal email as well. If he does so, can he also monitor documents and anything else of interest on the personal site?

In this excerpt from Answercast #29, I look at the kinds of things an employer can monitor: basically, everything... if it's on a work computer.

Employee monitoring

So, there's a couple of assumptions that you're making that I honestly don't know if I'm going to make the same way. I really, strongly, take issue with, "He can no doubt monitor their personal email as well."

The only thing that an employer can monitor is what happens on the computer that the employer provides.

In other words, the computer at work. In which case, he can monitor everything:

  • All incoming and outgoing email whether it be business or personal;

  • All documents on that machine;

  • And all data transferred to and from that machine.

It's a company machine!

Similarly, if all of the information exchange occurs on the company network, then the same thing applies. The company can, in fact, monitor all of the data that's transmitted across the network.

Yes, you can encrypt it... but there's ways around that, at times, in the corporate environment. Typically, people don't use that, but at a minimum, they know to which sites you're visiting, if nothing else.

The company's computers

So the issue is more about not what you're doing, but where you're doing it from.

If you're doing it on a computer at the company, everything's open and up for grabs. If you're using company resources (like the company network to do this work), once again everything's open and up for grabs.

Even when you work from home, there is a possible risk, if the company is aggressive enough. And that is simply this, if you connect to your corporate network through your home machine, then the company has an opportunity to install monitoring software on your machine or just potentially see what's going on in your home machine... even though, it's your home machine.

This is a case where you really need to understand the risks of doing something like that.

Your own computer

Now, the clear case is: if you have a machine at home, you do not use it for company purposes, you do not connect it to a corporate network associated with that company, then there's really no way for them to get their fingers into it.

Obviously, you want to do the usual good-behavior things, such as staying on top of malware, but as long as you keep your personal and business lives separate, then, theoretically, there should be no overlap. No opportunity for the business to stick its nose where it doesn't belong.

Article C5510 - June 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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5 Comments
Gordon
June 25, 2012 11:59 AM

If you access your personal email account at work, your employer could potentially have key logging software installed, and could get your password from that just from doing it one time. It would be unethical and probably illegal for them to monitor your personal email using that password, but they could easily do it, even if you never accessed your personal email at work again.

John
June 25, 2012 4:09 PM

Should be noted that companies and agencies such as Social Services can and sometimes do examine a client's/employee's FaceBook entries, no matter what device was used to make the entries.

Dan
June 26, 2012 10:19 AM

If you have to go to court for something illegal, your personal records could be seized - so even doing things on your home computer is not safe in all instances. So many times I have watched the news, and the police are walking out carrying the home owner's computer.

Mike
June 26, 2012 3:40 PM

For a company to install any monitoring software on my personal computer without my specific consent, simply because I've logged onto their network, I would suspect it comes under the same legal sanctions as me installing monitoring software on anyone else's personal computer. It's still malware.

Dionne
October 21, 2012 3:06 AM

Personally, I wouldn't mind just as long as my company is ethical enough to let me know about their monitoring system. Also, I should be smart enough to know that doing personal activities while at work is a big NO NO. I'm actually in an organization that applies a monitoring software called Time Doctor but the thing is, it made me more productive knowing that I need to do work related tasks while I'm being monitored.
I think it's more of performing what's expected of you but at the same time, the company being responsible of not exceeding their limits when it comes to monitoring their employees.

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