No one has ever accused the federal government of being ahead of the technological curve, and understandably so. In our society it is the market that drives this kind of innovation, not the government. But even at that speed, it would appear that the federal government might do well to get its policy house in order. Allowing anyone, not to mention the Secretary of State, to operate out of a personal email account shocks even my jaded IT policy conscious!
So what lessons do we in higher education learn from this news? First, policy is critical, not after the fact but properly in place from the start to set legal, institutional and user expectations and behavior as well as to streamline business process. Upon entering the office – any federal office, and most especially those that fall under National Archives – a protocol must be followed that allows for no exceptions. “Here is your email address, Secretary Clinton, and you will use it for all official business; remember, dear, it is the law! And this law implies that the use of any external mail system, and heaven forbid a commercial vendor, is prohibited.”
We – federal government, higher education, and any sector that serves the public – should by now be well beyond the starry-eyed past when free email accounts felt magical and appeared to us as if manna from heaven. There is a comical side of this story that has already had me laughing at the thought that if the service was Google (notice, in The New York Times article it remained unstated) how delighted the company is to have profiles on all of the people around the embassy world. They tend to be wealthy enough to have a lot of disposable income! For the Duty Free set, Google can get quite the pretty penny for marketing and advertising that crowd. But in fact, it is not funny. Profiles from State Department correspondence is ludicrous and not the means by which to run government or any not-for-profit business.
I predict that one of the reasons that Secretary Clinton will give for her choice is that groups such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous have made hay with State Department email in the past by hacking into the systems and exposing the messages. That debacle should have been cause to bring in industry-standard network and information security, not defect to personal – and in all likelihood commercial -- email providers. Sidebar: it should also have made the issue of cyber-security a priority, but alas we had to wait for the undeclared cyber war to get as out of control as it is before the New York Times blew the roof off of the issue finally a couple of years ago.
As my seventh grade teacher, Sister John Margaret used to say, back to brass tacks. Dear State Department, I know of a nice little boutique firm that caters exclusively to not-for-profit entities that can help you with your IT Policy needs.
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