Electronic communication - Privacy
Electronic resources are never as private as you think. Messages are sent across networks and sit on servers, they're backed up to tapes that can be held for years, and with some effort even erased sections of computer hard drives can be rebuilt even after something else writes over that spot.
Think the message is only between you and the reader? Think again.
- That message may cross a dozen different networks on the way to a destination. Can you know that someone is not monitoring traffic in some way somewhere along the route?
- Anything can be forwarded to another party. Anything can be printed.
Servers and networks are owned by companies. Or in our case, universities.
- Wittenberg University does not monitor users' mail. However:
"The 1986 Electronic Privacy Act prohibits phone and data line taps with two exceptions: law enforcement agencies and employers. The Act considers e-mail to be the property of the company..." (Writing for the Technical Professions, 1999).
- University employees are required to comply with the Patriot Act in addition to other state and federal guidelines. (For a short list of the key items affecting colleges and technology, see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.)
- Your personal e-mail address also belongs to someone. Each email provider has its own Terms of Service that you agree to when setting up your account with them. Be sure you know what you are agreeing to before setting up your account.
This document last reviewed April 26, 2013.