People should be able to write whatever they please in an email without worrying about other people reading it other than the recipient. Of course, I believe this is true only when they use his or her personal computer. At the workplace, on the other hand, I believe it is morally acceptable for an employer to read his or her employers email. One of the deontological issues concerning this is privacy of personal communication and the strongest utilitarian consideration is that if employer's email is monitored, then there would be less lost productivity and less cases of sexual harassment. There is obviously a tension between the employee's right to privacy and the business' right to control what goes on in the workplace.
One example is of a female administrator who was horrified to find her boss reading printouts of employers email. She lost her job for her protest. She tried to sue her employer, but there were no laws guaranteeing the confidentiality of email at the workplace, and she lost her case.
The question of ethics is different from looking at laws and their enforcement, for even though something is legal it can be unethical, and if something is illegal it can be ethical. Laws do not have to fit the definition of ethics (D'Amico, 1996).
A 1998 American Management Association Survey found that 63 percent of employers electronically monitor their workers by reading email, browsing computer files, monitoring Internet use, or a combination of methods. The research also found that 23 percent of those employers didn't notify employees that the monitoring was going on (Glave, 1999). The deontological issue concerning privacy pf personal communication could be solved by simply notifying the employee that email, among other things, will be monitored. At that the time the individual could decide whether...