Harvard University has admitted to a search of faculty email accounts in an attempt to uncover information about an alleged cheating scandal. The purpose of the search was to review correspondence with two student-run newspaper reporters who were covering the scandal.
According to the University, the search was confined to only the subject matter line of a limited number of faculty emails. Personal email accounts were not reviewed, only administrative accounts. The faculty whose email accounts were searched were not informed of the search either prior to or after the review.
The president of Harvard University has ordered a review of Harvard’s email privacy policies in light of the incident. Other employers can take note of the reaction to the search and tighten their own email policies.
If an employer wishes to review employees’ email accounts, the employer should advise employees that their emails are not confidential and may be subject to review, with or without notice. Employers should make sure that their employees do not have an expectation of privacy with respect to their emails, either sent or received. Clearly defined policies will go a long way if an employer is accused of over stepping its bounds with respect to review of employees’ emails.