More than one in five major Japanese companies monitor e-mail messages by executives and rank-and-file employees to block leaks of corporate secrets and customer information, according to a recent Kyodo News survey.

The survey of 100 major Japanese companies found that 22 of them routinely check e-mail messages and 46 make it a rule to have retiring employees sign confidentiality agreements to keep them from leaking secret information they obtained in the course of their jobs.

The firms did not disclose how they monitor their employees’ e-mails, but experts say employers commonly install a system that automatically identifies e-mails that contain designated words, such as “classified” or “top secret,” as well as the names of new products or technologies.

Employers are tightening surveillance to combat leaks of information by staff in the wake of recent scandals, including the leak of Defense Agency computer system data from a subcontractor of Fujitsu Ltd. that built the system and the arrest of an employee of a NTT DoCoMo unit on suspicion of downloading customers’ communication records.

However, some experts say monitoring employees’ e-mails could be a violation of their privacy and could be used for purposes other than preventing information leaks, such as evaluating their job performances or monitoring their political beliefs.

The survey also found that 50 of the companies have new employees sign confidentiality agreements and that 57 have clear in-house rules to punish employees who leak corporate secrets.

Among other findings, 42 of the companies surveyed limit access to security-sensitive rooms, protecting them with passwords and making them only accessible with special keys, while 68 distinguish between general documents and classified ones and limit access to classified ones in accordance with an employee’s rank.

Twenty-four companies have teams specializing in protecting corporate information, according to the survey.

On Internet security, 29 companies separate in-house networks from outside networks like the Internet, while 90 companies have installed firewall systems to block unauthorized access to in-house networks and leaks of corporate data, the survey found.

The 100 firms polled by Kyodo include major companies in various industrial sectors.

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