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A service which helps employers to assess how their email policies comply with business needs and legal requirements is launched today.

The operator of the Email Auditing Programme (EAP), security consultancy Peapod, reckons that up to four in five corporate emails are junk. In trials of the new service, Peapod found one firm where just 21 per cent of email traffic was work-related.

Similar findings were reported with other beta customers - pointing to businesses paying a heavy price for non-productive email use, Peapod claims.

With EAP, Peapod consultants monitor email traffic over client networks, usually for a week. They provide the client with detailed reports of network usage and a cost analysis of the non-productive traffic. Based on this analysis, Peapod works with customers to devise appropriate policies and strategies. EAP costs around £15,000 for 10,000 In-boxes.

Personal use of corporate email would be considered a misuse of corporate resources by many firms, according to Thomas. Heavy use of personal emails is in the same category as excessive personal phone calls or using the office franking machine to send Xmas cards, he argues.

Firms commonly apply content management technology (such as MIMEsweeper) to reduce the risk of disseminating pornographic content, racist material or email which might fall foul of the law.

But this was a "kneejerk" reaction to reducing risk unless it was combined with an understanding of current mail usage or business requirements, Peapod says.

Such knowledge is needed to fine tune the technology and, more importantly, to create email policies and strategies limiting non-business use, while keeping employers on the right side of the law.

A network of legal firms advises Peapod on legal issues, such as how to ensure that content for monitoring is established and how to write email policies into staff handbooks and employment contracts.

Stephen Mason, barrister and legal director of Ikan (a Peapod partner), said that balancing the rights of individuals under the Human Rights Act and Data Protection Act with the needs of business is like "walking through a minefield".

"Whenever anything goes wrong, liability usually falls on the employer rather than the employee."
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