Accessing your Employees email is wrong

It is wrong for a Manager, Supervisor or the even CEO of a company to view anyone’s email but their own.
The big problem however is that it is very legal for them to do it when ever, how ever and for what ever reason they like.
Right this second there will be thousands of employees around the world who’s email is currently being viewed with out their knowledge.
You may not know this but you are not the only one who has access to your mailbox at work. Anyone who has System Administrator privileges on your network will have the ability to access, view, delete or even scarier respond to your email without your knowledge. They also have the ability to grant other people access to your mailbox.
How do I know this? I’m a System Administrator myself.


In my role as a System Administrator I will receive multiple requests per week for Managers to access their employee’s mailboxes and almost without exception, this access is to be granted without the employee knowing anything about it.
Every time I am forced to do this it sickens me as I see it as a violation of the trust those people put in me to protect their privacy.
There are policies that cover this sort of thing on both my client’s side and my side that usually say something along the lines of no one shall have access to anyone else’s mailbox unless under direct authority of the CEO or other authority of the company. The fact still remains that if that CEO or other authority so wishes, they can view anyone’s email on a whim and read anything they like.
The justification for this is that the company owns the email system and therefore can look at what ever they like. To this I say, does not the company also own the phone system? Imagine the outcry if it were discovered that Managers were tapping their employee’s phones and listening to everything they said. How is this different from email?
What can you do about it?
Not much let me tell you. There is one thing that may tip you off to the fact that someone has been accessing your mailbox however.
If someone is reading your email and opens one that you have not yet read yourself, it will be displayed as read when you go in to check your mail. So if you see one that it read but you know you did not read it, then something might be up.
Secondly, you could try asking your System Administrator. I know I would love to advise someone when I have given someone else access to their mailbox but it is too risky for me to do that. Obviously I can’t let them know via email and the phone is risky as someone may over hear it.
The third way you can protect your email privacy is to only use your work email for work email. Set yourself up a Hotmail account. Even your System Administrator can’t get into that one and no one but you will be able to read it. The only draw back with this is that you will have to be continually going to http://www.hotmail.com from your computer and since ALL your web surfing is also logged, your Manager may have issue with you spending so much time on the internet. Some companies will even make it impossible for people to get to the hotmail web site.
Another great way to protect your privacy is to get an Instant Messenger program like MSN or ICQ. I would recommend ICQ as you do not have to install anything on your computer, just run the web version and you don’t have to worry about firewalls etc… If you go to http://go.icq.com you can set up an ICQ account and start messaging anyone else who has it. The great thing about Instant messengers is that they do not keep a copy of the messages anywhere so no one can view what you have written. The fact that you are st the web site http://go.icq.com will be logged but none of your messages will be.

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12 comments

  1. Dave J

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. If an employer is providing you with their resources in both time and equipment, without which you wouldn’t be accessing said e-mail in the first place, of course they can condition that use. Just because “everybody does it” doesn’t mean personal communications at work can or should be regarded as completely private.

  2. Matt Clarke

    Would you also have them tapping the phone that they provided you with
    What is the difference between tapping someone’s phone and reading their email.
    Would you have them install a video camera above your desk that they provided you with?
    How about one in the bathroom that they provided you with?

  3. Gary

    Most managers accept some level of personal use of those things but taking away the property rights of the employer always leads to abuse.

  4. Matt Clarke

    Would you accept your employer reading your normal mail that comes to you at work?
    After all they are providing a place for it to be delivered to. Surely they have the right to read it before they give it to you if they want?

  5. Dr. T

    Employees have no right to send or receive personal mail, e-mail, or telephone calls at work. The employer pays for all the infrastructure related to mail delivery, e-mail usage, and phone usage. Thus, employees should have no expectation of privacy regarding mail, e-mail, or phone calls. Most employers allow limited use of their facilities for personal business. If kept within limits, that actually increases productivity. (It would be ridiculous to expect a worker to rush to a payphone so she can check on her kids.) However, the bad apples will abuse any good thing. Employers need the ability to monitor e-mail, Internet, and phone use when employees misuse the facilities.

  6. Matt Clarke

    Just so I am clear on this as no one else will answer this question with a yes or no.
    You would support your employer tapping your phone and listening in on any phone call when ever they wanted?

  7. Dave J

    Would I actively promote it? Of course not: it’d be very obnoxious and strikes me as quite unsavory. But would I defend their right to do so? Yes, absolutely: it’s not the employee’s phone and it’s not their time. The same is true for e-mail or snail mail, which is, in part, why I never use my work e-mail address for anything other than work and why receiving personal paper correspondence at work strikes me as bizarre: I’d be much more worried about it being delayed or lost there than if it was sent to my home address.

  8. Dave J

    I assume you are familiar with the difference between government spying on the population at large, and an employer placing limits on the use of their own property?

  9. Jono

    Thanks for clearing that up Matt.
    My girlfriend and her fellow employees were warned not to send personal emails after one of them forwarded jokes around.
    We were wondering before if it was possible for the employer to spy and read her emails and you’ve cleared that up.
    I wonder if theres a way you can disguise/encrypt MS Outlook emails and the websites you visit with Internet Explorer?

  10. Matt Clarke

    Yes if you wanted to you could encrypt your emails so that only you and the person you sent them to could read them.
    It does however require encryption software to be installed on both your computer and the person you are sending it to.
    It does not stop your employer simply changing your password and logging onto your computer and reading them.
    As for hiding what web sites you are going to, there is not much you can do.
    If your boss is a big Nazi and gets his kicks from reading your emails, the best bet is to get yourself hooked up to MSN Messenger if your network firewalls will allow it.

  11. mohamed

    I’m a system Admin for an orginazation of about 3000 email users. once in a while we do give a manager access to a mailbox of another user. our policy is that the owner of the mailbox must know about it. So when we give a manager access to someone else mailbox, the owner of the mailbox is informed and when we remove the it, we infom them again. We rearly give a manager access to other users mailbox unless the owner is sick or on vaction and they need an email from that mailbox.
    If the manager feels that the employee is abusing the system and want to use it against the employee, Then HR, Union rep and the employee have to know about…
    In short, you will know if someone access your mailbox and for what reason…