June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.954.1 - 14.954.8
Personal vs. Professional E-mail: the Palin Case
Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University email@example.com
Last fall’s break-in of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's private e-mail account can serve as a fascinating case study in an Ethics in Computing class. The break-in is a clear violation of federal law, and the ethics of that should not be in serious doubt. But what about posting the contents of her private e-mail on a public Web site? Was that unethical too, as a violation of privacy? Suppose the information posted revealed an indiscretion relevant to the campaign or a violation of the law, would it still be unethical, or does the public have a right to know? The Diebold case from a few years ago comes to mind; here confidential information about e-voting software was posted accidentally and resulted in a much-needed security audit. And what of the claim that Governor Palin was conducting some state business using her Yahoo account? If she did this to circumvent state open-records laws, it would clearly be illegal; but if not, could it still be considered unprofessional? And if so, is all business use of unofficial e-mail accounts unethical, even if the purpose is to, e.g., accommodate larger attachments than inboxes can hold on the employer's e-mail system? Suppose the employer has a policy (as some universities do) of allowing private use of the employer’s computer equipment, as long as it does not hinder official use? How can our students protect their accounts against break-ins? Not only does this case raise important privacy issues, it also touches on the issue of separation of work and personal life, which all of our students will face as they begin their careers.
When someone, allegedly David Kernell , hacked into Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account  last September 16, he highlighted a distinction that is rapidly growing in importance in today’s social-networked world: the difference between personal and professional e-mail. A decade ago, the average person might have had a single e-mail account. But now, increased monitoring by employers has led most employees to separate their “home” and “work” e-mail accounts. While the author could find no ethical guidelines that would require such a separation, it is clear that some activities should not go on using work e-mail while others are inappropriate on personal e-mail.
2. Personal use of professional e-mail accounts
Many employers permit personal use of company e-mail accounts, treating it the same way that they treat personal use of the telephone—it’s OK as long as it doesn’t get in the way of work activities. But that, obviously, does not include exchange of pornography, and companies also fire employees for offensive language and e-mail harassment. In fact, an American Management Association survey showed that about two-thirds of companies monitor their employees’ e-mail, and more than a quarter of companies have fired employees for misuse of their e-mail . And e-mail is not quite like the telephone, because every outgoing message bears the name of the Proceedings of the 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition 1 Copyright 1 2009, American Society for Engineering Education
Gehringer, E. (2009, June), Personal Vs. Professional E Mail: The Palin Case Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5503
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