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03.14.13 | Blog Posts

Harvard's Secret E-Mail Search: The Intersection of Internal Investigations and Digital Privacy

The Insider: White Collar Defense and Securities Enforcement

Earlier this week, Harvard University acknowledged the fact that, in the wake of last summer's cheating scandal that rocked the campus, it had secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 Resident Deans. The e-mail search was undertaken last August in an effort to determine who had leaked to the media a "confidential" internal e-mail regarding the cheating and also to determine whether any personal student information had been leaked. Harvard did not acknowledge the fact that it had searched the e-mails until this week, seven months after the searches and only after the Boston Globe broke the story. In the days since Harvard’s surreptitious e-mail search became public, the University has fallen under enormous criticism from faculty, administrators and privacy advocates, all of whom feel blindsided and violated by the University's unannounced and undisclosed search of electronic data. But Harvard's approach highlights the interesting and complex issues surrounding the competing concerns companies and institutions have in both conducting thorough internal investigations while, simultaneously, protecting the privacy interests of their employees in the digital age. [...]

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