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No more sender's remorse?

New e-mail filter screens outgoing messages for potential legal headaches.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Are you sure you want to say that to your boss?

Software maker Audiotrieve hopes to step in where your conscience and good sense leave off with a new filter that scans outgoing corporate e-mail for bad language, company secrets, dirty jokes and all other manner of potential legal time bombs.

The company showed its new OutBoxer product on Monday at the Demo trade show, promoting it as a safeguard against the type of incriminating messages that have caused trouble for companies such as Microsoft and Oracle.

The custom software is available now for U.S. business customers.

Corporate e-mail administrators can set up OutBoxer to screen outgoing messages for a variety of suspect areas, Audiotrieve CEO Roger Matus explained.

OutBoxer examines each message based on complex linguistic patterns, similar to way the company's InBoxer antispam product scans e-mail. "It's not based on spotting a certain word or phrase," Matus said. "Our background is speech recognition, and we're using pretty sophisticated language analysis tools to look at the content of the message."

Those tools were developed partly by examining more than a million messages stored on the servers of corporate-crime poster child Enron, which turned out to be a fine test bed for learning what not to write in an outgoing message, Matus said. "We had dirty jokes, (Enron CEO) Ken Lay talking about what kind of pills he's taking--you name it," he said.

Once OutBoxer spots suspicious content, it alerts the sender before delivering the message. Some warnings are voluntary; others are mandatory rejects. You can tell the boss to soak his head if you really want too, for instance, but you can't cuss.

Matus said that in most cases, a gentle reminder is all workers need to clean up their act. "People tend to think of e-mail as something private," he said. "We remind them e-mail is not private, it's not confidential, and it actually belongs to the company."