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Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
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edyang
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edyang,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/23/2013 | 4:41:07 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
It does sound as if this issue is becoming more convoluted to the point of civil or criminal law (requiring probable cause to execute a search warrant via a judge, for example).
edyang
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edyang,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/23/2013 | 4:39:38 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
Fritz, all good questions. I suspect as these types of issues become more and more prominent, we'll slowly start to learn how different organizations are adapting.
Tony A
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Tony A,
User Rank: Strategist
3/19/2013 | 11:24:56 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
"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."

Did the students feel more secure or less, knowing that the administration might be prying into their own emails at some point?

'Harvard makes it pretty clear in its Faculty and Staff computer rules and responsibilities that system administrators may "gain access to users' data or programs when it is necessary to maintain or prevent damage to systems or to ensure compliance with other University rules." '

That is all but a blanket license to intrude in any way they want into any campus database whatsoever whenever the administration feels threatened. What "other University rules" - getting on the wrong dinner line? Using a faculty bathroom? What are the criteria for believing that the infraction is egregious enough to warrant prying into personal data? What are the criteria for deciding that access to some database is relevant to an incident?

The university, like most employers, wants unrestricted access to information on their systems. So they offer "warnings" that effectively say that if you want to attend or work at this university you have no privacy. But their systems, and those of most employers, are part of a public network. They have no proprietary right to anything on in. Nor do ISP's. I realize this sentiment contradicts some court rulings in favor of employer surveillance and ISP data usage. But the courts are imperfect enforcers of ethics and are clearly at sea when it comes to dealing with technology.
edyang
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edyang,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2013 | 10:52:01 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
There's monitoring and there's monitoring. Jonathan is correct that outright "spying" will serve to demoralize employees; the irony is that even though most employees realize "privacy" is all relative when it comes to the workplace, they still have the illusion and desire for some. There are tools out there that can strike the right balance between monitoring and privacy, most notably MySammy (http://www.mysammy.com). It gathers just the minimum amount of data necessary to report on employee computer activity, for example, just gathering the website title tag and URL not privy to what exactly is going on on the screen. It also provides employees with the option to stop collecting data if they are on a break or off-work hours and want to use the computer for their own personal use. It's a fine line to walk, but it can be done.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
3/18/2013 | 8:52:02 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
I think Jonathan formulates the argument well. You need probably cause in some form to conduct the monitoring. The Harvard Faculty Arts and Sciences policy needs to counter to some extent the looseness of the Faculty and Staff Computer Rules, which states the large incursions allowed by an administrator without describing the conditions under which he can conduct them. Inspections are allowed "to maintain or prevent damage to systems..." IT staffs are doing that all the time. Not much protection there. Even then the only actual defense is an vigilant staff, understanding probably cause and challenging incursions on its rights; Charlie Babcock, senor writer, InformationWeek
FritzNelson
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FritzNelson,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2013 | 6:08:00 PM
re: Monitoring Vs. Spying: Are Employers Going Too Far?
Jonathan, I think this case raises some important issues. While we might agree that there's a policy in place, I would question the need to enforce it here. I could well be wrong, but this is precisely the reason the question needs to be raised. In determining whether to examine e-mails, Harvard should weigh the risk (what it's having to deal with now) with the reward (is it that important that they know who leaked? would they be willing to fire the person who did so? and for what gain . . . because we learned that a big group of students cheated? if the university deals with this correctly, would it really harm the reputation of Harvard?). I wonder how many organizations have gone on a hunt for some miscreant and, looking back, ascertained that it didn't matter as much as they originally thought it would. We're not really talking about leaking classified CIA information here.

I wonder how many organizations have policies like Harvard does. I wonder how many enforce them, and how they do it. I wonder what burdens that puts on IT, which must at some level implement these policies, and enable this monitoring, and possibly even make the IT folks privy to all of it (the doing of it, and what gets discovered).


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