Who Owns Your Email?
Freedom of Speech?....well....
Professor William Cronon from the University of Wisconsin has become the target of an open records request by State Republicans due to his scathing criticism in the New York Times of Governor Walkers new law regarding union employees collective bargaining rights.
In his article Prof. Cronon cites Wisconsin's political history, which for quite a time was basically Republican. He discusses the GOP's demonizing of government at all levels which he states has become a "reflective impulse" for conservatives. (I have noticed this as well)
He gives a history of the strides unions made in Wisconsin with predominant backing being made by the Republicans. Gov. Walker has sadly, divided a state that hasn't seen this kind of political division in about 40 years.
However, it is probably the comparison of Walker to McCarthy (another Republican) that truly irritated the GOP. Although Cronon made certain to state that Walker is no McCarthy, he did say both men were aggressive, with an air of self-certainty and indifference to contrary views.
I imagine the GOP got together and said "What can we do to this little geek now that he has slandered our man? How dare he state his opinion against us in a public venue. Lets get him on something, anything, rip him apart, air his dirty laundry...hey, we have an idea..."
Now the Email Issue...
We'll crack open his email account and see what's in there that can implicate him in something, anything.
So is that possible? Can the GOP just bust into the man's email? Well according to the Republicans, sure, why not? They claim that since Professor Cronon works for the University of Wisconsin which is state owned, his emails belong to, you guessed it, the State of Wisconsin and are therefore government property.
Wisconsin's GOP executive director Mark Jefferson apparently defends the GOP's open records request and true to Republican spin, claims that a concerted effort is being made to intimidate them from lawfully - he said that - lawfully seeking information, citing Wisconsin’s Open Records Law. He requested copies of all emails sent from Professor Cronon’s university account after 1 January 2011 containing keywords such as “Republican”, “Scott Walker”, “collective bargaining”, “rally” and “union”. Gee, think he was looking for something specific?
Professor Cronon alleges that the state Republican Party hopes to find evidence of using these resources against the Universities policies which are "to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum”. in an effort to discredit his arguments. I would think this would be obvious.
Since the good Professor had the nerve to print something the GOP didn't like they decided that now any emails sent from the University is owned by the government of that state. Which would and should, frighten the Professors at ALL state run universities. Now the GOP has opened a new can of worms that make Professors all over our country wonder, are my emails government owned?
Universities are not the only ones with emailing rules. Your corporation may have them as well. In 2007 the NY Times reported:
"The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers have the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages, a decision that could hamper communications between labor unions and their membership".
You would be surprised how many rules there are, for instance when you checked that little box next to your providers TOS (Terms of Service), you didn't read that 90 page contract did you? Don't feel badly, no one does. So you truly do not know what your rights are to your email account or what their rights are to your email account.
Hey, Get off of my Cloud
Ever hear of Cloud? You are using what tech companies have long called "cloud computing" it is when people work and store information on the Internet. And you would be surprised how your cloud can be floating out there in cyber space for anyone to access or use against you.
Remember those little TOS agreements I mentioned? Harry Lewis, a computer science professor at Harvard, says what's in those agreements may turn out to be no laughing matter. He warns that most online companies reserve the right to shut users down if they are accused of storing something illegal, whether or not the accusation is justified.
Doesn't that sound like THEY own your email?
And what about that company email? If you leave the company what happens to that email account you were assigned? All those sent messages that are "out there" and incidently, "in there". In the computers hard drive, forever and ever. You thought you deleted it but it will live forever in the heart of your Apple or Dell or Sony.
So will every website you frequented illegally while at work. While on company time. Certain common programs on the computer automatically keep a log of what the user does. Your browser creates a "history file" that keeps a record of the Web sites the user visits. There is also a cache file that sometimes even keeps copies of the pictures that have been downloaded. This is information that can be used against you.
Keep it Private!
A little suggestion. If you have a company email, keep it for company correspondence only. Your private email should not even be accessed at work. Wait until you get home to check your email or check it before you leave the house for anything important.
I don't care how bored you are do not "search" the latest singles sites or the One day sale at Macy's. Not on corporate time.
Fortunately for Professor Cronon, he never used his University account for personal correspondence. So even if the Wisconsin Republicans decide that it is not okay for someone to publicly view their opinions against them but it is okay for them to then attempt to find some information that they can use against him, it won't matter to the good Professor as he was already smarter than that. But that is not the point.
The point is to be aware and understand that whatever you do on the Internet, can be accessed by those who want to know. And you may not even know who they are.
Be constantly aware, the Internet is not private. It is a public, international, world wide web and we are just the little flies that have been caught in it.