A system, method and various software products provide for automatic deferral and review of e-mail messages and other data objects in a networked computer system, by applying business rules to the messages as they are processed by post offices. The system includes rule enforcing post offices that store a plurality of business rules derived from business communication policies. The rule enforcing post offices receive messages from client applications and from other post offices and apply the business rules with a rule engine. The rule engine determines a set of actions, specified by business rules that are fired, to be applied to each message. The rule engine provides the actions to a distribution engine, which executes a highest priority action. Actions include releasing, deleting, returning, forwarding, or gating the message. Gating forwards the message to a gatekeeper, an administrator assigned to review messages for conformity with business policies or for other reasons. The gated messages are received by the gatekeeper at a gatekeeping post office. A gatekeeper can review the gated messages, and then manually release, delete, return, or further gate the message. Alternatively, if the gatekeeper does not review a gated message with a specified time period, the message is automatically reviewed by the gatekeeping post office with its own set of business rules. Having multiple post offices with independent sets of business rules allows for distributed and hierarchical review and gating of the messages. The system can route any type of data object, and apply the business rules to such objects in a similar manner.