Blogs > Liberty and Power > Big Brother and U: Is Your University Reading Your Email?

Aug 16, 2009 3:06 pm

Big Brother and U: Is Your University Reading Your Email?

In a previous post, I discussed recent high-profile cases involving college surveillance and the use of email or Internet postings against students, faculty or staff. (Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation effectively won its case defending the student leader who emailed her criticisms of Michigan State's calendar policy to faculty on campus. The university accused her of "spamming." FIRE referred the litigation to EFF, a civil liberties group specializing in electronic law).

In Part II, I offer the following information to shock you into how little privacy you have via e-mail or the Internet. In short, if you use a university email account--even off campus--the university owns that electronic "property" and may archive it for years....

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Mark Brady - 1/31/2009

Although I certainly found your account disturbing, I suggest you should explicitly distinguish between public and private institutions, e.g., between, on the one hand, SIUC, MSU, and Temple and, on the other, Carleton, Harvard, and Yale. The sad truth is that many (most?) people would not make much, if anything, of that crucial distinction. That's not to say, of course, that private colleges and universities would be wise to engage in the sort of activities you describe.

After all, I assume you believe that privately owned nonprofits (like Georgetown University), just like privately owned for-profits (like Microsoft) should be able to set the rules governing employee use of their computers and email accounts.

Steven Horwitz - 1/31/2009

This is not a surprise to me at all, perhaps because I work at a private school. This has been public knowledge at our place for years and faculty can either live with the situation or try to conduct personal email via a gmail or other account.

The key is having a good process in place that describes *who* can look at email and under what circumstances. No such policy will be perfect, but having one, especially one written with faculty input, is about the best you can do.