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In one more side effect of the Spitzer probe into Wall Street, securities firms are cracking down on office communication, banning access to personal email accounts at work.

The latest firm to implement the measure was

Merrill Lynch


, which on Aug. 8 barred employees from using their accounts on sites such as America Online, Hotmail, Yahoo! and others in an effort to protect the integrity of the company's network.

The move comes in response to increased scrutiny from the

Securities and Exchange Commission

in light of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's investigation into analysts' conflicts of interest on Wall Street.

Financial-services firms are complying with regulations requiring they keep close surveillance and archive every electronic communication within their operations. To avoid being fined by the SEC because of improper email documentation, a fate that befell five firms in December, they are taking the next step and restricting any email transaction to the companies' internal messaging system.

"This furthers our compliance with regulatory demands, which include retaining every business communication we maintain, including instant messaging," said Merrill Lynch spokeswoman Selena Morris.

While many Wall Street firms already had the ban in place in some of their units for over a year, many are now extending that mandate companywide, or are at least considering a move along these lines.

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, for instance, had implemented the policy around early 2002, according to each firm. A few areas within Goldman Sachs, such as investment banking, only recently complied with the decision. CSFB declined to comment on its policy.