For This, They Needed a Survey?
Opinion: Companies are going to have to bite the bullet in order to meet federal disclosure requirements.Almost half of the companies that answered a recent survey on compliance with corporate disclosure and record-keeping arent going to meet the requirements spelled out in the law regarding retention of e-mail or other electronic messaging. Go ahead, call me cynical. But only folks who live under rocksor arent working in corporate Americaknow that email can kill by preserving, often without context, comments, remarks and wisecracks in a kind of unfair amber. Instant messages, sent on the fly, even worse. Tech, of course, has plenty of experience with this sort of stuff.
It was e-mail that sunk the reputations of a series of Microsoft executives caughtin printsaying things to one another best left to the after-work get-togethers.
BOIES: Once you concede that a company like Microsoft has monopoly power, which I think everybody pretty much agreed it had, then the question hinges on whether or not a company engages in fair competition. We have these e-mails that seem to suggest otherwise. When you talked to the Microsoft people, did they say, "Well, these e-mails are just wrong"? Or did they say, "Even if we were doing what was in those e-mails, thats O.K."? AULETTA: No, they were saying you were taking snippets out of context. They were saying that this is not how people act. This is how they talk in this other medium, e-mail, which is not the same. That theres an intent you cant gauge from e-mail. BOIES: Now, you use e-mail. AULETTA: Yes, I do. BOIES: Now, is it your experience, when youre using e-mail, that you tend to be candid? Maybe even more candid than you do when youre writing a letter? AULETTA: Candid and sometimes sloppy. BOIES: Sloppy andspontaneous? AULETTA: Mmm-hmm."Sloppy" and "spontaneous" are not words lawyers like. So whats going to happen to the thousands of companies that dont comply with the new legal requirements? Well, there are a variety of scenarios. It is unlikely that the requirements will be somehow undone by Congress. The Bush Administrationseen by many critics as too close to corporate interestshas its hands full with more politically sensitive stuff like hurricanes, gas prices and a war. And with mid-term congressional elections looming on the horizon, there arent too many members of Congress who are going to stand up and say they think they were too hard on corporate America after the Enron scandals and collapse of the tech stock bubble. The Securities and Exchange Commission might be able to extend the deadline, however. If many corporations continue to be out of compliance in a year when the deadline looms even closer, the agency might offer some leeway. It canin one of those marvelous regulatory sleights of handforget to be as rigorous in enforcement as the call suggests. Of course, theyre not going to say that. But, most importantly, the compliance deadline is almost a year away. And while companies might not like to save, preserve, record and organize correspondence between employees and employees and the outside world, chances are good theyre going to have to bite the bullet at some point. The records have provedtoo many times, in too many waysto be too useful to throw away. eWEEK.com technology and politics columnist Chris Nolan spent years chronicling the excesses of the dot-com era with incisive analysis leavened with a dash of humor. Before that, she covered politics and technology in D.C. You can read her musings on politics and technology every day in her Politics from Left to Right Weblog. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.