Should you check outgoing e-mail?

* Some good reasons to check e-mail leaving your organization

Inbound message content scanning to eliminate spam and malware is virtually universal. However, outbound content scanning is becoming a hot issue for organizations.

While the Securities and Exchange Commission has long required investment houses to sample e-mail and instant messages sent by their broker-dealers after the fact to make sure that these communications don’t contain false claims or misleading statements, there is a growing move for all types of organizations to monitor e-mail messages and instant messages before they are sent.

The motivation is simply to prevent unacceptable communications - such as profanity, credit card numbers, sensitive information and the like - from leaving an organization and thereby creating liabilities. A failure to monitor communications can have some serious consequences:

* Last week, a New York state assemblyman sent e-mail to about 300 people in which he referred to some of his constituents as idiots.

* In June, a secretary spilled ketchup onto the pants of a lawyer at a large law firm in London. He asked her, via e-mail, to compensate him for the approximately $7 dry cleaning bill and followed this up with a note on her desk when she did not reply quickly enough. She replied to the lawyer - and 250 other people - that her mother’s sudden illness and death had slowed her response to his demand. The lawyer has resigned from the firm.

* A woman intended to send an e-mail message to her sister commenting that her participation in a weight loss program had made her “fat butt” smaller. However, she mistakenly sent the e-mail to a distribution list for her homeowners association, not her sister.

In short, it’s important for users to be educated on corporate policies about appropriate use of e-mail and for these users to police themselves and try not to send out embarrassing or sensitive information. A failure to be careful can lead to a loss of reputation or a job, or it can lead to heavy fines. However, users sometimes make mistakes and send out information they shouldn’t - or they hold to the mistaken notion that if they delete an e-mail message, it’s gone. Any organization concerned about its credibility, reputation and future should make sure that its outgoing e-mail is as clean as the e-mail stream that reaches its users.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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