Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Chilling Effects, Take 872

Basically, a circuit court judge has ruled that private emails sent by teachers from school workstations are "open records." The story isn't detailed enough to tell exactly what the bounds of this ruling would be -- does this count for personal email accounts or just work accounts? What if they had laptops and sent the emails from home? etc...

More reasons this stuff is harder than it looks. It isn't just that teachers are a bunch of obstinate luddites and IT directors are insufferable pricks.


Joel VerDuin said...

This issue is really complicated by (mis)interpretation of Wisconsin's public record's laws.

the laws in Wisconsin are media neutral and content-specific. It is the content of the message which defines a public record and information which could be purely personal in nature or not related to one's duty as a public employee is considered to be exempt from open records laws.

This is a huge stretch to suggest teacher emails fall under open records laws. Our courts have not, to my knowledge, ever swayed from the "content" focus to a "medium" focus looking at how something was said instead of what was said.

If this holds up after appeal, it has some serious ramifications for infrastructure and policy as we are required by open records laws to retain for up to seven years. I'm currently not retaining the email that announced that donuts are available down in the lounge (and I have no desire to do so). It is disappointing.

Ben Chun said...

They can't disclose what they don't have -- do your personal business from personal accounts, not through school resources. Be smart. The district didn't set up an email server for you to write to your friends or family. Don't send messages through your work email server that you wouldn't want your employer to read. That should be obvious. Pointing this out need not have a chilling effect, but hopefully it does serve as a wake-up call. We need to use technology intelligently here. We need to teach our students the same.

When you do need to make private or personal communications, use your own email account, preferably on a server owned by you or someone you trust. Do not make unencrypted connections, ever. If you use Gmail, you must use the "Better Gmail" extension with Firefox. Go get it now. It will redirect any connections to to keep you safe. For that matter, think about the web sites you're visiting also. Consider using an encrypted, distributed, anonymizing proxy such as Tor or Gpass.

It's important to fight for rights and principles here. But it's also important to use the technology that we have as a lever to enforce those rights. We have to protect ourselves in the process!

Deacon Mark said...

Here in Indiana it means that all email originating from anywhere within the corporation, and all responses to emails, must be archived for 10 years.

Tom Hoffman said...

A lot of schools block most webmail accounts, so that makes it difficult to simply use one's personal email.

Deacon Mark said...

this isn't talking about personal mail -- it's the official stuff. It's making everyone think twice before sending anything. All non-school email groups have been discontinued. Gone are the days of sending a joke or funny picture around for laughs.

We have gmail, yahoo mail, hotmail open for student (and faculty) access. Faculty have over-ride permission to get to accounts such as comcast, road runner, etc.