Earlier this year, word broke that the University of California system secretly established a way by which it could monitor and read faculty emails. It defies belief that the UC system is the only one to do so. As is the case with any employer these days, your college or university can read your .edu email because it wants to target you for some reason. It can also read your work email for kicks. ...
Using a private email account is not really private when you’re conducting what the state deems to be public business. “As Hillary Clinton has learned the hard way, using your personal email account when doing government work doesn't make the content of those emails exempt from public records laws,” noted a 2015 story about former University of Illinois Phyllis M. Wise. She used private emails to get around public records requests from Steven G. Salaita’s legal team, and resigned from her post after those emails were released.
The same dynamic applies to faculty — as William Cronon, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, found out when the state Republican party filed the equivalent of a Freedom of Information Act request for his university emails. Cronon could have corresponded through private email. With no lawsuit over the matter, those emails might never have been subpoenaed. But had there been a lawsuit, they could have been subpoenaed, as the Wise example suggests.
It’s impossible for faculty to get total protection from having our email observed. But we can make it a little harder to have our email quite so easily monitored by our employer. Here’s how:
- If you don’t have a personal email account, get one.
- If you do have a personal email account, don’t be afraid to use it more often.
- Make a conscious, intellectually defensible decision about what your employer and the public has a right to know about your job and what they don’t.
- Then divide your email activity accordingly. Yes, you should still worry that whatever you write could be accessed by people whose interests are far different from your own, but you shouldn’t make it easier for them to see your electronic correspondence just because you think your Gmail account seems unprofessional.
Most faculty may never have to worry about these issues. However being cautious will greatly increase the chances that you will be able to maintain at least a modicum of privacy in the course of doing your job.
I always assume that someone is reading every email I send from appstate.edu. And I have those twisted gut feelings for days afterwards when I write something that I shouldn't. I make fun of env-econ readers with Tim via gmail and I thought it was safe. Now I guess it will be mostly via text or musical.ly.