When IT Is Asked to Spy

IT managers are being put in the awkward position of monitoring fellow employees.

It's 9:00 in the morning, or 3:00 in the afternoon, or even 10:00 at night. Do you know what your users are up to? More than ever, IT managers can answer, "Oh, yes."

As corporate functions, including voice and video, converge onto IP-based networks, more employee infractions are happening online. Employees leak intellectual property or trade secrets, either on purpose or inadvertently; violate laws against sexual harassment or child pornography; and waste time while looking like they're hard at work.

In response -- spurred in part by the need to comply with stricter rules and regulations -- organizations are not only filtering and blocking Web sites and scanning e-mail. Many are also watching what employees post on social networks and blogs.

They're collecting and retaining mobile phone calls and text messages. They can even track employees' physical locations using the GPS feature on smartphones.

More often that not, IT workers are the ones asked to do the digital dirty work, primarily because they're the people with the technical know-how to get the job done, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute, a Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy that helps companies establish Internet and computer usage policies.

Statistics are hard to come by, but Flynn and other industry observers agree that monitoring and surveillance are becoming a bigger part of IT's job.

Michael Workman, an associate professor at the Florida Institute of Technology who studies corporate IT security and employee behavior, estimates that monitoring responsibilities take up at least 20% of the average IT manager's time.

Yet most IT professionals never expected they'd be asked to police their colleagues and co-workers in quite this way. So, how do they feel about this growing responsibility?

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