The Globe reports on Harvard's sorry-not-sorry explanation for scanning headers on e-mail from deans. The Crimson reports university President Drew Faust says she had no idea.
While I can understand why the resident dean(s) would be upset about this, it's important to remember that our work email is NOT private. In most cases, employees lose the right to absolute privacy when using a business/work-provided email address, so rather than be shocked we should take it as a learning experience. If you want what you say online to be reasonably private, use your private email address.
Harvard Security policy is very anti using private email for work related correspondence. Every email is protected under Harvard information security, unless it's out on a public gmail or whatever. But, protected under info security does not mean private. Not in the least bit.
In most cases "your" work email address belongs to your employer, not to you. Harvard has nothing to apologize for.
I suspect this is just another example of the disconnect between Ivy academia and the real world.
For several years, I worked for a company that made a lot of money off its candidly named Message Inspector software. Some of the developers were of libertarian bent, hell, most of them were, and some troubled with enabling spying on employees.
My wife works in the financial biz, where such spying is mandatory. There are things you may not reveal at all and others limited by schedules, under SEC reg and various laws. Investment banks, brokerages and such generally use automated filtering software to flag possible violations and even keep such mail from going or coming to a recipient until checked by an authorized human. It's also a CYA system to prevent insider trading and such.
Yet, a reasonable expectation of privacy could well wangle its way into the current absolute power of an employer to read email. This is akin to the definitions of being able to go into a public toilet stall and do whatever behind the closed door.
I bet there will be court decisions that refine and limit the right to spy. The probable-cause model of most of civil and criminal actions should seep its way into this field. Maybe in a decade or so, decisions will require employers to show probable cause for accessing any email of any employee at any time. Because we can is not the typical American ideal.
Meanwhile though, it's true that you can't expect privacy for email on a company system, network and computer. It's such an atavism though, a throwback to like indentured servants — we own the computer system, so if we want to read, share and giggle over your love notes, we exercise that right!
Maybe my developers had accurate outrage. Of course, even then, it didn't inspire them to quit any more than it will Harvard staff members.
Companies don't want to giggle over your love notes, they'd much prefer you didn't spend their resources and work time on email that isn't work related.
Same as they don't want you to use their postage to send a mash note.
It's the same literalism that leads managers to say things like if employees gave gave them non-stop work for four hour then lunch half hour then four hours non-stop, productivity would soar. Oh, and no use of the net for shopping or Facebook, even at lunch or break time.
Instead, nearly all humans work best and have good attitudes if they chill on and off.
That same company with Message Inspector also sold Internet Manager software. That let companies block sites by URL or even keywords on pages. We knew of but did not promote the studies that found that companies that let their employees surf at specific times, like lunch, got higher productivity than those who blocked access all the time.
Managers and owners who say, "These resources are mine, all mine, and I'll let you know whether and how you can use each one," are not managing well.
Only in academia could something this small become this overblown.