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Harvard Secretly Searched Deans' Email 113

Posted by timothy
from the scream-like-howard-dean dept.
theodp writes "Taking a page from HP's playbook, Harvard University administrators secretly searched the emails of 16 deans last fall, looking for a leak to reporters about a case of cheating. The deans were not warned about the email access and only one was told of the search afterward. Dean and CS prof Michael Smith said in an email Sunday that Harvard will not comment on personnel matters or provide additional information about the board cases that were concluded during the fall term. Smith's office and the Harvard general counsel's office authorized the search, according to a Boston Globe report. Smith's Harvard bio notes that his entrepreneurial experience included co-founding and selling Liquid Machines, where Smith coincidentally invented a software technique designed to keep unauthorized people from reading electronic documents."
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Harvard Secretly Searched Deans' Email

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  • by gagol (583737) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:44PM (#43132655)
    It was always made clear to me that my work email could be monitored for any reason. Dean or janitor, you are an employee.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:07PM (#43132759) Journal

      Apparently, according to TFA this was made explicit contractually for Harvard faculty that they enjoyed greater freedom from intrusion than this,(and more generally, in the traditions of academia) Faculty, tenured ones doubly so, are treated as a very special flavor of employee, one whose independence, so much as it can be preserved while still getting them to show up for scheduled classes and not perv out on undergrads, is considered to be one of their major valuable features.

      It's one of the curious tensions of academic structures: the students are 'customers'; but part of the 'product' can consist of giving them what they don't want(shitty grades, failing them for academic misconduct); faculty are 'employees'; but part of the value of a really good and prestigious faculty is the appearance(and ideally the reality) that, while the university signs paychecks and schedules classes and other administrative work, the faculty are free to pursue their research and teaching, and new faculty are 'peer reviewed' through the tenure process, rather than being hirelings beholden to HR.

      • Come on Harvard, they should know your boss can revoke his word any time he feels like... Their Business school and Law school wrote the BOOK quite literally on allowing this kind of thing.

        Ultimately, it was Harvard-owned email boxes, Harvard is their boss. The matter was involving academic cheating, that's a crime worse than murder. and if professors were aware of it DIRECTLY affects the credibility of the entire institution.

        So yes, it was a completely justified response when expelling 60 students to revi

        • by Nutria (679911)

          The matter was involving academic cheating ,... and if professors were aware of it DIRECTLY affects the credibility of the entire institution.

          RTFA. The Deans weren't accused of cheating. Harvard was embarrassed at the scandal and hunted down the leaker, in the guise of "personnel matters".

          • by Aighearach (97333)

            There is no "guise," unauthorized leaking in violation of company policy is always a personnel matter.

            • by jkflying (2190798)

              Except that it's not a private company. Harvard is taxpayer subsidised. Just as the shareholders of a company would expect to be informed of an internal company scandal that involved over 100 employees being severely disciplined/fired, so can the general public expect to be informed of the goings-on within a publicly funded university.

              • Harvard is a private university with a huge endowment. So large, I've heard, that they only charge tuition to preserve their exclusivity. What's your source on them being subsidized?

                • by nebosuke (1012041)
                  No, they do not charge to preserve exclusivity--they practice need-blind admission and provide need-based financial aid (up to and including essentially waiving tution for lower-income students). The exclusivity comes from the rigorous selection process.
            • by Nutria (679911)

              Did the leaker provide a list of names, or just that there was a cheating investigation?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Ultimately, it was Harvard-owned email boxes, Harvard is their boss.

          Yes, and hence Harvard should also be allowed to send emails from any and all of their email-boxes. I mean, you are just an employee.

      • by nospam007 (722110) * on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:33PM (#43132919)

        "Faculty, tenured ones doubly so, are treated as a very special flavor of employee, one whose independence, so much as it can be preserved while still getting them to show up for scheduled classes and not perv out on undergrads, is considered to be one of their major valuable features."

        But nonetheless they think that these people are dumb enough to use their work email to leak stuff from work?

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        I disagree entirely. I think you're misapplying the freedoms that professors are expected to have to deans. Why does a dean need protections? Is that a position where unpopular positions are advantageous to the process of education? I think an unpopular dean is more likely a problem manager than anything.

        • by dkf (304284)

          I think you're misapplying the freedoms that professors are expected to have to deans.

          Deans are professors. The senior ones with lots of management/budget responsibility. Dean is what you try for after you have tenure, assuming you're interested. Lots of professors aren't though, because it's a lot of work. (My old boss described it like this: it's assumed you put in 50% of your time doing teaching, 50% doing research, and 50% doing administration...)

          • by steveg (55825)

            Not here. Deans are former professors. They live on the administrative side of the house. Chairs of departments are professors, but not deans.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:20PM (#43132835)

      It was always made clear to me that my work email could be monitored for any reason. Dean or janitor, you are an employee.

      I work at a state university, and we are reminded of this at least once a year. Pretty much everything related to our jobs is available to the public, if the public cares enough to pursue the information.

      Harvard's private, but onerous contract language seems to be the norm these days just about everywhere. The deans probably don't have any significant legal recourse. Being faculty, though, I doubt it ever occurred to them anyone would actually dare do this.

    • Besides, this is nothing like the HP case, unless this involved their personal email accounts, or their personal cell phone records.

      With work email, there is absolutely no expectation of privacy whatsoever.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Thats not how tenured academics will see it
  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:46PM (#43132661)
    re: "...Smith coincidentally invented a software technique designed to keep unauthorized people from reading electronic documents." [emphasis mine]
    .
    Since the Deans and Faculty members are technically employees of the Harvard Corporation / Harvard University, then there was no unauthorized access, since I am sure that Harvard reserves the right to peruse and otherwise scrounge through the work product of its employees. Whether it can do that to its students, though, may be another matter.
    .
    Anyone here have direct access to a Harvard Faculty / Administration Employment Manual or Employee Agreement or Contract? That's the only way to be sure: look at the actual contract.
    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:01PM (#43132723)
      The point is whether, given the supposedly Enlightenment ideals of the Western idea of a university, they should have done. If they are just a corporation that educates people for money, that is one thing. If they are a university set up to stand for the possibility of a better society, that is another. Personally I prefer universities when they fight corporatism, not when they support it.
      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:24PM (#43132863)

        Personally I prefer universities when they fight corporatism

        You do realize that almost all universities (including Harvard [harvard.edu]) are corporations? Corporatism is hard to fight when it is the default organizational style for everything beyond the size of a few people.

        • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:40PM (#43132961)
          I note I was down-nodded for an honest statement of opinion. It looks like a lot of people on /. approve of Big Brother. But you miss the point. Corporatism is giving rights to corporations that supersede what we in Europe call human rights. The existence of corporations does not imply corporatism if individual rights are protected.

          As an example, the Netherlands has an army but is not militaristic. North Korea has an army, and it is.

          • by khallow (566160)

            Corporatism is giving rights to corporations that supersede what we in Europe call human rights.

            It's worth noting that the start [wikipedia.org] of the "corporate personhood" legal fiction in the US was an attempted grab of Dartmouth College by the legislature of New Hampshire. So the start in the US of what is currently called "corporatism" was the defense of a college.

          • I note I was down-nodded for an honest statement of opinion. It looks like a lot of people on /. approve of Big Brother.

            I don't think they necessarily approve of big brother, but rather they have a mechanistic view of the universe and have picked a certain set of nerd-attractive rules to define their view of the universe. Those rules tend to have big brother as an end-game.

            I say that because I used to have that sort of viewpoint myself, but the end result convinced me that maybe I should re-evaluate my opinion of the universe. Took me 15+ years to get to that conclusion, so I am not surprised that many of my fellow slashdo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Rules seem to be "staff email can be read, faculty email cannot be read". The administration is now pretending professor that becomes dean are no longer faculty but staff.

      Harry Lewis thoughts [blogspot.com]

      • The ACCUSATION OF CHEATING at the level of Harvard is a professional "death sentence". Frankly, the accusations by the expelled students were probably cause to look at the professors.

        If this went WRONG these Professors would have found out when security locked them out of their offices... And escorted them off campus. This wasn't going through the union, board, require process... This was Academic "Sudden Death". Be glad they ONLY searched your email!

        They can be upset and outraged all they want, but they

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      really? so technically at&t could read your sms backlog since it's employees would be doing the reading?

      where I live it would have been unauthorized access, they had no business searching through those mails.
      the police could have done it with proper authorization(and that would not have come from the faculty).

      at most they could have seen email headers - after permission from the judical system.

      of course, I don't live in the states... ( and you know, this is not something you can just blanket sign away o

  • by eyenot (102141) <eyenot@hotmail.com> on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:48PM (#43132671) Homepage

    We're all supposed to be geeks, here, especially computer geeks.

    Computer geeks are supposed to be the ones who have to repeat ad nauseum and hammer home the fact that no, email is not secure (or private).

    Shouldn't the story just be "shrug [link]"?

    Shouldn't the comments just be all speculation about how the fact that this made "news" could possibly mean we face further uninformed and draconian measures in legislation?

    • by qubezz (520511)
      Some of the finest minds in tech didn't graduate from there.
      • by skids (119237)

        I'm more concerned that the title correctly used an s-apostrophy. When that happens I'm deeply suspicious that Slashdot has been taken over by a secret cabal of English majors.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm more concerned that the title correctly used an s-apostrophy. When that happens I'm deeply suspicious that Slashdot has been taken over by a secret cabal of English majors.

          Whose vine ripened mod points hang menacingly over us.

          • by idontgno (624372)

            Shouldn't there be a hyphen in the compound-word adjective "vine-ripened?"

            <sotto voce>Um. Rats. Cabal rules say I shouldn't comment to correct, only moderate.</sotto voce>

            Umm.. and there is no English major cabal!

  • That would seem to be the new HP tablet that looks like a BlackBerry PlayBook but with a worse display and camera. What has that got to do with Harvard seeming to have forgotten the difference between a university and a corporation?
    • by kinko (82040)

      That would seem to be the new HP tablet that looks like a BlackBerry PlayBook but with a worse display and camera. What has that got to do with Harvard seeming to have forgotten the difference between a university and a corporation?

      Some years ago, HP's board of directors approved spying on some of their own top executives to try to find the source of a leak. "Playbook" was supposed to be a metaphor for "game plan", not a product name :)

  • by haus (129916) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @03:55PM (#43132703) Homepage Journal

    Here is Harry Lewis thoughts on the matter...

    http://harry-lewis.blogspot.com/2013/03/email-privacy-at-harvard.html [blogspot.com]

    For those not familiar, Harry Lewis was not only the Dean of Harvard College for a number of years, he is also a Professor of Computer Science.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The man is living in the past, a kinder and gentler age where the university was "like family". We are now in the age of the Internet and education as big business with "brands" that can ebb and flow with the news.

    • He mentions scientific fraud, but when the school is EXPELLING 60 students over ONE incident, they are looking at the "academic death sentence" if they find professors involved in any way.

      Having professors involved would be the WORST possible outcome the University would have. They were looking for blood, there is probably a secret organization that would have "suicided" the offending professors... After they were pubically tarted and feathered (Harvard has old traditions) Privacy was the least concern.

      • by dkf (304284)

        After they were pubically tarted and feathered (Harvard has old traditions)

        Tarted and feathered? Is this some reference to an old punishment of dressing up academics like they were performers in the Moulin Rouge? That would be... well, rather eccentric and would make an absolutely wonderful punishment really. You'd only have to do it once and people would behave for the best part of a century (except for those who are secretly extreme exhibitionists and who want to do that sort of thing in public anyway; different strokes for different folks, and all that). Or were you talking ab

  • by v1 (525388) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:09PM (#43132773) Homepage Journal

    to leak something USING the source's computers deserves to get caught. Just sayin'

    • You realize that if you leak anything that is on a computer, you need to access that computer at some point.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      just look at what happened to (and is still happening to) Bradley Manning... Whistle-blowers beware...
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mabhatter654 (561290)

        Normal whistle blowers have legal protection... When you whistle blow THE LAW that's what you get. They probably will push to execute him. The military doesn't have provisions for whistle blowing against the civilians.. Spreading secrets is treason... Even if when people label their own treason "secret".

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:20PM (#43132833)

    When you work for someone you need to assume that your email is read, your website are logged, your SSL traffic decrypted and your computer inventoried. It is also a fairly safe assumption that login, logoff times, screenshots and keyboard strokes as well as mouse movements are all routinely captured.

    Depending on your place of employment many of these big brother activities are demanded by law (SEC etc). It's not a question of whether or not you like or the IT department likes it, because neither of you do. It's a question of someone /way/ up your food chain has made the decision to perform that level of monitoring. If your going to get mad, get mad at the VP, the legal team, the SEC, or other person typically at the VP level that had the power to demand the level of logging to begin with.

    To illustrate my point on how these things are often driven by and watched from the top you need only look at Yahoo. Their new CEO looked at the VPN logs when she saw the parking lot emptier than she thought it should be. She concluded people were slacking off and not really working and ended telecommuting for everyone at Yahoo. This was a data driven decision based on the logs that Yahoo's servers kept and their CEO reviewed.

    I'm not justifying this, I'm not defending this, I'm simply explaining how these things work in the real world.

    • At my last corp job, I brought in my own laptop and Sprint wireless modem. My work machine was for nothing but work, and they had no idea how much time I spent surfing /.. If I'd had something to whistle-blow, I'd have just copied it to a flash drive from my work machine, and sent it from my personal laptop.
  • Only the little people are supposed to be pissed on.

  • To self-encrypt everything?
    • They are looking for a whistleblower. An encrypted message to the press is a big red flag that says, "I am a whistleblower," unless all the deans are in the business of communicating with the press. A message to an anonymous remailer is equally incriminating.

      The real answer here is to take the documents out of Harvard on a thumb drive and mail them from an Internet cafe or somewhere else that cannot be monitored by the administration.
  • Mixed Messages (Score:5, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:34PM (#43132925)

    Harvard has a problem because of THIS:

    Harvard University Information Security

    FAS Policy Regarding the Privacy of Faculty Electronic Materials

    The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) provides the members of its faculty with computers, access to a computer network and computing services for business purposes, and it is expected that these resources will be used in an appropriate and professional manner. The FAS considers faculty email messages and other electronic documents stored on Harvard-owned computers to be confidential, and will not access them, except in the following circumstances.
    First, IT staff may need access to faculty electronic records in order to ensure proper functioning of our computer infrastructure. In performing these services, IT staff members are required to handle private information in a professional and appropriate manner, in accordance with the Harvard Personnel Manual for Administrative and Professional Staff. The failure to do so constitutes grounds for disciplinary action.
    Second, in extraordinary circumstances such as legal proceedings and internal Harvard investigations, faculty records may be accessed and copied by the administration. Such review requires the approval of the Dean of the FAS and the Office of the General Counsel. The faculty member is entitled to prior written notice that his or her records will be reviewed, unless circumstances make prior notification impossible, in which case the faculty member will be notified at the earliest possible opportunity.

    They were not notified according to this policy.

    Could get messy.

  • No privacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Emperor Tiberius (673354) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:42PM (#43132973) Homepage
    When are people going to learn that they have no privacy on their employer's computer systems? Geeks and IT folks seem to have the biggest problem with this. If you really need that privacy, go out to your car on your lunch hour and use your smartphone. At the end of the day, it's your employer's power, bandwidth, space, and equipment. If they want to monitor their systems, they have every right to do so. Now obviously, some monitoring is a huge gray area when it comes to moral and ethical issues. So why not simply side step the issue by using your own person accounts, devices, and access?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You do when policy clearly states a degree of confidentiality and due process for breaching it, both which were not followed. This will likely become a big deal, with the administration coming down hard to Protect The Brand.

      • Re:No privacy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Sunday March 10, 2013 @06:56PM (#43133791) Homepage

        You do when policy clearly states a degree of confidentiality and due process for breaching it, both which were not followed. This will likely become a big deal, with the administration coming down hard to Protect The Brand.

        It's particularly a big deal when you do it to a substantial number of Deans. I'd assume that a number of people in the administration will be without jobs before too long, and maybe also a change of general counsel too. Not that anyone will say anything nasty; there will just be a general agreement that some people need to... well... move on; personality clashes, changing priorities, that sort of thing. And that perhaps it is time to ring the changes with who provides legal advice. No fault implied. No public link with this incident at all.

        In a commercial organization, I'd expect more recriminations in public for spying on the executive members of the board (damn close to what's happened here, in explicit contravention of their own policies). Universities tend to prefer to keep things a bit quieter. But no amount of union membership or past history of good relations is likely to save those responsible for authorizing this. A key rule of university politics is this: unless you have cast-iron evidence of wrong-doing, you DO NOT MESS WITH ANYONE WHO CAN TAKE YOUR BUDGET AWAY. Or who can replace the person with that power.

        Pass the popcorn. I'm going to enjoy watching this from afar.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      I'm of the opinion that there's no one right answer to this. Some companies will treat their employees like prisoners and monitor them every minute they're at work (and maybe even try to when they're not at work). Some will give them complete privacy. And the rest will do something in between. IMHO you do not have a fundamental right to privacy when someone is paying you for that time. But you are free to negotiate with the person writing the checks exactly how much privacy you wish to have. Companies
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 10, 2013 @04:45PM (#43132985)

    Here we have a story about how students, generally of wealth and privilege, being caught cheating, and being handed less severe sentences then are handed out by low ranking local state schools. Adding to that, the school's biggest concern now seems to be to get whomever had the audacity to air Harvard's dirty laundry.

    Slashdot reaction? Silly noobs, e-mail is insecure. Employers have the right to search company e-mail.

    Hey guys, how about concern about what these people are teaching the kids who, let's face it, will be future congresscritters and other leaders. Hey, it's OK to cheat, just don't get caught, or else you'll get a slap on the wrist. Oh, and be sure to exact revenge on whoever lets the plebs know.

  • ... he could always claim he had Changnesia.

  • I think we're going to finally see end-to-end encryption popularized for email. You can now mod me funny.

  • If you change the title to reflect reality
    Company does what it said it may do in employment contract/IT policy amendment.
    It's really not so scandalous

    • Except they didn't. Harvard's policy is a bit more respectful of faculty privacy than the average company. At least they are supposed to notify you.

  • "In June 2010, Liquid Machines was acquired by Check Point Software Technologies Ltd [harvard.edu], an Israeli Internet and data security company best known for its ZoneAlarm firewall software."

    You have got to be shitting me ! ! !
  • Hey, I couldn't help but comment when I saw this Harvard Dean post - especially since it drew a comparison to the HP pre-texting spygate scandal. I was one of the reporters HP targeted in this scandal, when I worked at CNET. They hired private investigators who hacked into my *PERSONAL* cell and home phone records to see who I was speaking with. That's a big difference than what Harvard did. Unfortunately, employers are allowed to rifle through your company email - because it *is* their property you are u

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