If someone is snooping into your company's personnel files and you complain about that snooping, the snooper will find out right away.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Are you at risk from 'peeping Tom' office snooping?

Oct. 19, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   Most Americans probably realize that e-mail they send and receive at the workplace isn't private. Employers have a right to inspect corporate mail if they suspect it's being used improperly.
   But are your personal files safe from intrusion? Can you be sure that the Information Technology (IT) employees where you work will keep their noses out of your medical records, your Human Resources data and your payroll account?
   According to a new survey of IT managers, the answer might be "No." I was appalled to read that one-third of the IT managers who took part in the survey admitted that they routinely snoop on employees by looking through personal records.
   Information Technology managers have access to all employee passwords and accounts in a typical company, but are always expected to respect employee privacy.
   But the survey, conducted by Cyber-Ark Software, at www.cyber-ark.com, and published in Windows IT Pro magazine's September issue, found that 33 percent of the IT managers surveyed said they look through the files and records of other employees.
   "Wouldn't you (snoop) if you had secret access to anything you can get your hands on?" wrote one of the survey participants.
   The ethical implications of this finding are worrisome. As Americans, we expect that our personal records, whether they're stored on the Internet, in a filing cabinet at home or in computer systems at the office, are off-limits to everyone except those who are authorized to know what's in our files. If you came home from work and found a stranger snooping through your filing cabinet, you'd be outraged. Snooping at the workplace is just as unacceptable.
   What can you do? If you suspect that anyone in your office or workplace is snooping, talk to the personnel officer or human resources representatives. Be clear about your suspicions. Don't let company attitudes get you down. If you run into a lot of resistance, you can take your complaint to a higher level within the company or to a local lawyer.
   (Don't fool yourself, however. If someone is snooping into your company's personnel files and you complain about that snooping, the snooper will find out right away. You might demand that the company keep no records of your complaint except for hand-written notes locked in a safe that has no master key.)
   What about the files themselves? You probably don't have any say over the kind of files kept by the company on each employee, but you can be very careful with all your own electronic files. If you use a company computer, never store any document on that computer that could embarrass you or anyone else if it were made public. It's that simple.
   As for company e-mail, it's sometimes fair game for peeping Toms at your workplace. Officially, many companies have policies that forbid most employees from looking through your private mail, but IT managers and personnel officials probably will feel free to look at any postings. Be sure to leave private matters out of company e-mail. Use your own e-mail account for that.