Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grand Game: Harvard Privacy Edition

Harvard searched the private email accounts of nearly its entire administration.  And lots of faculty.

Really, it did.

This quote is remarkable:  Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, said that  “I feel very comfortable that great care was taken to safeguard the privacy of all concerned.”

If you search private emails, that is a prima facie invasion of privacy.  If your defense is that you did not publish them verbatim on the internet, that's pretty lame.  Just looking at the emails is pretty bad. 

I understand that work emails are not your property.  I understand that if there is some specific legal proceeding or probable cause that your emails might be examined.  Having had this experience myself, I switched to GMAIL in 2006*; it's not THAT different, but they would have to have an actual legal reason to look, instead of just searching randomly.  But in this case it appears they just did  a blanket search of all email accounts.  Ick.

*Think back.  Something happened at Duke back then.  Something that involved lawsuits, and email accounts being subpeonaed. 

Nod to Anonyman


blink said...

Ah, but you've downplayed the juiciest irony: the impetus for the email search was to discover who leaked private information. In other words, the rationale for violating privacy was to protect privacy!

Anonymous said...

I dunno. I work for the gubmint, and we say there's a reason it's called e-mail: 'e' stands for evidence. That's why one of the more common emails we send is "Call me."

I'm not saying the search wasn't done for slightly effed up reasons, pace blink, but I do think it's kind of ridiculous to regard one's work email as "private" in any way whatsoever.

I remember coming in to class one day at the public law school from which I recently graduated, and my professor told us he'd had a really bad weekend responding to a public records request by a disgruntled former student. He'd had to go through all of his previous emails and disgorge the ones referencing this student in any way. I'd bet he made a switch to gmail pretty promptly too.