Thursday, September 10, 2009

Policy and Ethics

The excellent Grits for Breakfast posted several stories of alleged misbehavior at the Bexar County probation office, including a link to the following story from the San Antonio Current. The following passage caught my attention:

According to former Bexar County probation IT Director Natalie Bynum, [Director of Operations] Cline kept a list of known and suspected union members she wanted out of the department. To weed them out and quash the union, she had Bynum meet her repeatedly during and after work to comb through employee email accounts.
“She wanted their computers monitored in order to find out if they were doing any union activities while on the job, also to see what was going on with the union,” said Bynum, who now lives in Arizona and spoke with the Current by phone. “We’d go to the bar and then we’d go back to work afterwards. It would be just us in the office, often-time.”
Bynum, a close confidant of Cline’s during her tenure, says she was motivated by curiosity since she was “not allowed” to speak with known members of the Central Texas Association of Public Employees, a division of the United Steelworkers. Cline and Bynum’s alleged searches weren’t limited to the “five to 10” employees targeted by Cline, either. Bynum told the Current this week that Cline also regularly tapped into her boss’s account to see if Fitzgerald was talking about her.

In most workplaces, this sort of activity may not be illegal, and is probably not even against policy. Still, I sense some ethical boundary is crossed when you start reading your boss' e-mail. Am I alone? On what grounds could the e-mail administrator deny an "authorized" request for reading e-mail, other than his/her own sense of ethical obligation?

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