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Japanese companies checking employee PC use

/ Source: The Associated Press

For many years now, companies have been able to keep track of every Web site visited, e-mail sent and file accessed by their workers through readily available tracking software.

Now a growing number of Japanese employers are monitoring their staff with the help of homegrown programs designed to spy on their workers' every move, a specialist said Thursday.

A recent study has shown that over 30 percent of large Japanese companies monitor PC use among their staff, according to Masakazu Kobayashi, an associate professor at Tokyo's Institute of Information Security.

Heightened concerns over a spate of data leaks — especially those involving the file-sharing software, Winny — is likely to drive that percentage up, Kobayashi said.

"It's scary," Kobayashi told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.  "In five years, most companies will be doing this."

Tracking software, which first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-nineties, have become increasingly sophisticated in Japan, Kobayashi said.

A piece of software by SEER Insight Security Inc., for example, allows bosses to visually monitor employees in real-time through mini web cameras, zooming in when a worker acts suspicious.

Other recent programs produce reports on an employee's moves on a computer down to the minute, or analyzes inter-worker relationships through e-mails exchanged between each employee — letting employers identify cliques or loners within the work force.

Such tactics by employees aren't prohibited by Japanese law, and past attempts by employers to sue their bosses over excessive monitoring have been unsuccessful, Kobayashi said.

"The message is clear — companies are telling their employees, 'Behave yourself because we're watching you,'" Kobayashi said.