Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Harvard E-Mail, Again

Yesterday was the long-awaited faculty meeting after the news that Harvard had examined the e-mail (metadata) of the Resident Deans looking for a leak of what was labelled confidential information. 

It was actually quite informative.  The most detailed account seems to appear (unsurprisingly) in Harvard Magazine.  To me, here are the highlights:

1)  Deans Smith and Hammonds gave unambiguous, complete apologies.
2)  There was a bit more e-mail searching than originally described;  in particular, there were some follow-on searches on the e-mail accounts of a Resident Dean that definitely did not go through the full process (specifically, Dean Smith doesn't appear to have been informed of them). 

I think the clear and unambiguous apologies were needed.  While I think I have been understanding throughout about why the administration felt the leak issue was important enough to merit e-mail searches, the fact was that Harvard's written policies were not followed.  That alone merits the apology.  Given that the previous apology offered by the administration was described by many as "half-hearted", it was important to have a full apology given at the meeting.  (Let's leave aside that it seemed a bit slow in coming.) 

It's a bit more disturbing that the institution doesn't seem to have a complete handle on process for searching electronic communications, but then again, it's a fairly new topic.  It's clear that this will be address on an ongoing basis, with an outside attorney investigating the past actions, and a Harvard committee being set up to examine the institutional policies regarding privacy of electronic communications.

Anyhow, seems like progress.

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