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Surveillance 2: Three bags full, sir

What should you do if you're the boss?

Your private email and phone conversations are company business. It doesn't just happen to the poor guy you read about in the newspaper. Thanks to the Internet, sales profiling, privacy breaches and identity theft can happen to you. Protect yourself by knowing who's watching and following these insider strategies.

At the office, employers have the right to listen in on, or look at, every form of communication short of mental telepathy -- including email, voice mail and saved files. The boss might just as well be standing over your shoulder, tut-tutting at every personal email you send.

Of course, if you're the boss, you have a responsibility to monitor employees' activities. Productivity stays higher if the people you hired are actually working, not spending their days checking stock prices or downloading nude pictures.

As top dog, you need to monitor Web use and email, too. If you don't, you risk being sued for creating a hostile workplace environment if even just one employee complains about an offensive email message or a lewd image being displayed on a co-worker's monitor.

Think your company doesn't track what you do at your computer? Think again. Today, 45 percent of all companies in the US use monitoring software of one sort or another, and experts predict that the number will rocket to 80 percent by 2001.

AT&T's automated systems scan a million employee messages per day. American government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are following the lead of private companies by installing software that logs every visit to any Web site by any employee.

Thanks to pervasive networking and the low cost of data storage, snooping tools are becoming more powerful and commonplace. A program called WinWhatWhere Investigator, for example, lets employers record every keystroke you enter on your PC. Its user list includes Delta Airlines, Exxon and the US State Department. Elron Software's CommandView includes a module called Message Inspector, which filters, stores and blocks email at your network server.

Take me to the Surveillance 2 ZDNet News special.