E-mail Security Story Left False Impression


By half-quoting and half-paraphrasing a passage from the Handbook for Students, The Crimson may have created a misimpression about system administrators' access to private electronic mail. The December 13 story about the Sunday meeting of the Harvard Computer Society states that "The University reserves the right to read any e-mail messages `when necessary to maintain or prevent damage to systems or to ensure compliance with other university rules,'" whereas in fact the opening of the sentence in the Handbook for Students reads "Systems administrators, however, may gain access to users' data or programs when necessary..."

This provision covers the case, generally agreed to be reasonable by those at the Computer Society meeting, of administrators stopping programs that have intentionally or unintentionally run amok consuming resources. Another example is the repair of malconfigured mail forwarding files that are causing mail messages to circulate in endless loops between machines.

Systems administrators will not read private electronic mail without the recipient's permission, except perhaps in extremely rare circumstances such as a search warranted by a court of law or similar extraordinary conditions authorized by the Dean of Harvard College or a comparable University authority. Harry R. Lewis   McKay Professor of Computer Science   Co-Chair, FAS Committee on Information Technology


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