Discussion Questions

  1. Overview

    Electronic mail is widely used every day by hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately e-mail can be a very insecure way of communication. Electronic mail is notoriously not private. When an e-mail message is sent it travels from the originating host computer to the destination and often passes through several relaying hosts. Administrators of any these hosts can easily eavesdrop the mail traffic. If the mail bounces because it can't reach the addressee, a copy of the message is often sent to the postmaster of the originating system who can read the e-mail addresses of the sender and the addressee and the contents of the mail.

    The concept of individual privacy with email would suggest users' expectations of an exclusive access and account usage. Personal problems with email transmission arising from the technology employed and current legal framework include the following:

    1. Received mail
      • Can be from anyone other than the account holder ("spoofing")
      • Can arrive via anonymous remailer
      • From mailing lists, where the email addresses of everyone on the list is accessible
    2. Sent mail
      • Computer systems crash and can't resolve names into addresses
      • Computer and domain names at destination sites frequently change
      • Anonymous remailers not secure
    3. Miscellaneous
      • Bounced mail will be seen by a human System administrator and operators can read messages in spool files at local sites - source or destination
      • Many companies consider individual's email corporate property, and are entitled to do so under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
      • Service provider specifications, such as Prodigy, which reserved right to edit any public messages prior to posting?
      • If "Finger" tool is available on system, anyone can learn any and all of the following: one's email address, name, location login, if currently on computer and if so for how long, how long since mail, last checked and who sender of mail is.
    Therefore one cannot hold a valid expectation of privacy with email transmission. Also you can get a general idea on how your privacy can be invaded So the discussion can be centered on how far can we stretch our traditional notion of privacy in the field of electronic mail

  2. Should the University Have the Right To Monitor My E-mail?
  3. E-mail Issues In The Workplace:

    Most of the risk involved in the use of E-mail centers on the issue of privacy. In the U.S., the Supreme Court has been called on to interpret the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of privacy in novel ways, especially as new technologies for the transmission of information emerge. For example, the Court has ruled that citizens have the right of privacy from invasion of their phone calls or mail. The rights of the organization and those of the employee may be in conflict with respect to the privacy issue. How does an organization reconcile this conflict? Issues raised by this topic:

  4. Anoymity In The Mail
    1. The quality of state of being unknown or unacknowledged.
    2. One that is unknown or unacknowledged.

    Over the last few years, an intense battle has been raging between the citizens of the net over the issue of whether on-line anonymity should be eliminated. One side feels that people should have enough conviction in their beliefs to state them without hiding behind anonymity. The other side feels that anonymity is vital for the protection of freedom of expression. Whichever side one agrees with, it is obvious that the technology for anonymity on the internet is readily available and that a definite vacuum is being filled by anonymity services. Points to ponder:

  5. Case Studies on Email Privacy
    • Jinsong Hu Case
    • (Symantec/Borland suit)

      Discussion Questions

      E-mail issues in the workplace

      When they use E-mail, under U.S. law, people have less right to privacy than when they send physical documents. Peruse the articles on an overview of E-mail privacy and E-mail issues in the workplace and answer the following questions.

      1. Legally, a company has the right to read employees' E-mail. But is it ethical? Why or why not?
        • "Just as a company has the right to prohibit personal use of a photocopier, it should have the right to stop personal use of E-mail by employees." Do you agree with this statement?
        • "Just as an employer should not listen in on employees' phone conversations, it should not read their E-mail." Do you agree?
      2. How much, if at all, would the presence of a written company policy on E-mail use affect your answers to the previous question?
      3. If you believe that E-mail should generally be private, should there be exceptions to this policy, for example, to cover for an employee who is ill or out of town?
      4. Is new legislation needed to safeguard the privacy of employees' E-mail?
      5. Given the possibility of forging E-mail, what kind of proof should be required before taking action against those suspected of personal use?
    • Alana Shoars Case:
      • The case of Alana Shoars.
        • In January 1990, Alana Shoars was the e-mail administrator for Epson America, Inc.
        • Arriving for work one day, she discovered her supervisor reading and printing out e-mail messages between other employees.
        • She says she was told by the same manager that all messages on the system were private.
        • She questioned the practice and said she was told to mind her own business.
          • A day later she was fired for insubordination.
        • She filed a $1M wrongful-termination suit.
        • She is now e-mail administrator at Warner Bros
    • Legal Resources & Case Law

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