'Monitoring' of messages by employers bothers me

ROGER SIMON

July 05, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

If you work in an office where a lot of people use computers, chances are that you send messages back and forth to each other.

Last year, employees sent 6.1 billion messages to each other, and by 1995 that number is expected to hit 14.3 billion.

I send messages all the time because, for some reason, sending electronic messages to colleagues is more fun than talking to them on the phone or even meeting them at the water cooler.

But did you know that your boss may be snooping on your messages?

In fact, some bosses snoop on everything that appears on your computer screen. Plus your voice mail. And your telephone calls.

This kind of snooping -- employers call it monitoring -- has been going on for a long time and it is estimated that 20 million Americans are being monitored through their computers.

The situation has gotten so serious that Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., has introduced a bill that would force employers to notify employees when they are being monitored, unless those employees were suspected of a crime.

The ACLU gets about 50,000 complaints a year about such monitoring. And when Macworld magazine conducted a study recently it found that 21.6 percent of employers admitted to snooping by monitoring electronic work files (73.8 percent), monitoring E-mail (41.5 percent), monitoring network messages (27.7 percent) and monitoring voice mail (15.4 percent).

For some reason it is the message snooping that bothers me most.

Ask yourself how you would feel if your boss was reading the messages you sent to your fellow employees.

No boss has time to read each and every message. That would leave no time for golf or afternoon naps.

And the fact that bosses can't read every message we send is the only reason some of us are still employed.

But when I first heard about computer snooping, I became very, very worried.

And I sent the following message to my closest friend at the paper: MEET ME AT WATER COOLER. IMPORTANT. DO NOT SEND ANY FURTHER MESSAGES ON COMPUTER.

And I got back the message:

BEFORE WE MEET AT WATER COOLER, HAVE YOU HEARD THE LATEST RULE FROM FROG FACE?

So I messaged:

DO NOT KNOW WHO YOU MEAN BY FROG FACE. HAVE NEVER HEARD OF FROG FACE. HAVE NEVER CALLED ANYONE FROG FACE. HAVE HIGHEST RESPECT FOR FROG FACE.

And my friend messaged:

EDITOR I CALL FROG FACE, YOU CALL STINK BREATH. DON'T YOU REMEMBER? YOU COINED TERM AFTER WE BROKE INTO FROG FACE'S OFFICE AND FOUND CASE OF TIC TACS IN BOTTOM DRAWER OF DESK.

And I quickly messaged:

HAVE NEVER BROKEN INTO ANYONE'S OFFICE AND IF I DID I WAS WEARING GLOVES AND THERE ARE NO FINGERPRINTS TO PROVE IT. HAVE HIGHEST RESPECT FOR STINK BREATH. LOOKS ARE NOT EVERYTHING.

And I got back the message:

WHAT IS WITH YOU TODAY? BY THE WAY, I REALLY LIKE YOUR IDEA OF SPELLING OUT INSULTS IN THE PAPER BY MAKING WORDS OUT OF FIRST LETTER OF EACH PARAGRAPH OF YOUR COLUMN. YESTERDAY'S WAS A MASTERPIECE: "WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU CROSS AN EDITOR WITH A HOG? NOTHING. THERE ARE SOME THINGS EVEN A HOG WON'T DO." VERY CREATIVE.

And I hurriedly typed back:

MESSAGE IN PAPER TOTALLY UNINTENTIONAL. WORDS SPELLED OUT BY RANDOM. HAVE NEVER PUT MESSAGES IN COLUMN. NOT EVEN LAST WEEK WHEN COLUMN SPELLED OUT: "IF EDITORS ARE THE ANSWER, IT MUST BE A REALLY DUMB QUESTION." DELETE THIS MESSAGE IMMEDIATELY. DELETE ALL MY MESSAGES IMMEDIATELY. MEET ME AT WATER COOLER NOW!

And I got back:

CAN'T MEET YOU NOW. FROG FACE, A.K.A. STINK BREATH, HAS SENT ME A MESSAGE DEMANDING TO SEE ME. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IS UP?

So I typed back:

HAVE NO IDEA. DO NOT KNOW YOU. NEVER HEARD OF YOU. BEST OF LUCK IN ALL YOUR FUTURE ENDEAVORS. AND WRITE IF YOU FIND WORK.

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