Use the White House E-Mails as a Teaching Tool

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The worlds of politics and technology often overlap, but never quite as overtly and publicly as in the case of the missing White House e-mails. Reports say that as many of 5 million messages -- including the majority sent during the past several years by presidential adviser Karl Rove -- accidentally were deleted. The government says that it is taking steps to find the missing missives.


E-mail security is closely related to compliance issues. This Daily Kos piece consists of links to Slash Dot commentary on the technical issues involved -- the compiler winnowed out the political comments -- and additional comments posted by Daily Kos visitors. The bottom line is that it is impossible for lay people to destroy any trace of an e-mail and the messages probably still exist. Indeed, true deletion is something that must be done by an expert. It is complex, difficult -- and perhaps even impossible.


The are many ways to use this situation as a teaching tool -- and such tools, apparently, are necessary. Of course, the biggest lesson simply is that employees should not write e-mails that could end up causing trouble. This extends beyond theft and obviously illegal activity to messages that could be considered harassing, sexist, racist or otherwise objectionable.


It is up to the organization to create and enforce an e-mail policy and make sure that employees understand that they agreed to follow it when they accepted employment. It's a good idea to have employees sign a statement attesting to the fact that they agree to the policy. Also drive home the point that the act of deleting e-mail -- if it is intended to keep them from being seen by legal or regulatory bodies -- most likely constitutes a separate infraction beyond what is contained in the e-mail.


On the technical front, companies must make sure that the e-mail and archiving systems they have in place meet all applicable state and federal laws. Those laws began tightening as a result of the rash of corporate scandals of the past decade. It remains to be seen if the current situation gives renewed momentum to these efforts. What is certain, however, is that the missing White House e-mails provide a perfect opportunity to drive home employees' email responsibilities.