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How much privacy do you expect from your workplace email?

Categories: Science & Technology, World

email-istock-155465650-460.jpgHarvard University secretly searched the inboxes of 16 resident deans. The school's senior resident dean says the administration owes them an apology. (iStockphoto)

Faculty members at Harvard University are reacting to news that the school's administration secretly searched the email inboxes of 16 resident deans while looking for a message about a cheating scandal that was leaked to news media.

The Boston Globe reported that the school's central administrators searched the work inboxes of the deans, who sit on Harvard's Administrative Board. They were not warned about the search and only one was informed afterward.

Last month, Harvard University said that it issued academic sanctions against about 60 students who were forced to withdraw from school for a period of time in a cheating scandal that involved the final exam in a class on Congress.

The school implicated as many as 125 students when officials first addressed the issue last year, according to the Associated Press.

"I was shocked and dismayed," law professor Charles J. Ogletree told the New York Times after news of the email searches arose. "I hope that it means the faculty will now have something to say about the fact that these things like this can happen."

Faculty of Arts and Sciences deans Michael Smith and Evelynn Hammonds said in a statement on Monday that the school made a "very narrow, careful, and precise subject-line search" after consulting with lawyers. Only the email's subject lines, and not the contents of the messages themselves, were searched.

"While the specific document made public may be deemed by some as not particularly consequential, the disclosure of the document and nearly word-for-word disclosure of a confidential board conversation led to concerns that other information -- especially student information we have a duty to protect as private-- was at risk," they said in Monday's statement.

While Harvard spokesperson Jeff Neal denied allegations that Harvard regularly monitors emails, the school's senior resident dean told the Boston Globe that he believes the deans are owed an apology for having their inboxes searches without notice.

"They don't seem to think they've done anything wrong," she said, calling the search "drastic and problematic."

But Forbes' Kashmir Hill wrote that the case is just another reminder that you can't expect complete privacy with your work email accounts.

"While you don't completely give up your privacy when using work email or sending personal email from work devices,  employers can go searching when they have a legitimate reason," she writes.

"It's worth reading your employee handbook to take note of the extent to which your employer gives itself access to your email."

Do you think Harvard was justified in searching the deans' email accounts without notifying them?

How much privacy do you have - or expect - with your workplace email accounts?


With files from the Associated Press


(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies)

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