Too Much Information

Conservatives should use state open records laws to go after the government, not individuals.

Controversy erupted in March when conservative groups requested access to the emails of pro-labor professors under state open records laws. There is plenty of hypocrisy on all sides of this blowup. But if conservatives are interested in protecting individual liberty, they sure have a weird way of going about it. Not only do the means they are deploying not justify their ends—they actually impair those ends.

It all began when William Cronon, a University of Wisconsin history professor, posted a long reflection on his personal blog about who’s behind Republican attempts to limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in Wisconsin. Cronon is a very smart man—an acclaimed historian and a MacArthur Fellow—and so when he adds two plus two and gets 22 he can count on being believed. Without a shred of evidence—or self-awareness about his own biases—he outlined the shadowy groups that allegedly form the vast right-wing conspiracy driving events in Wisconsin.

He blamed a “deeper network” of state-level conservative organizations whose chief villain is—no, not the omnipresent Koch brothers although they are a part of it too!—but ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council. Cronon denounced ALEC as “anti-democratic” and invited a media investigation. ALEC’s crime? It offers a forum for like-minded analysts and activists to move public policy in the direction of limited government, free markets, and federalism and has created a bank of model legislations for sympathetic legislators to consult.

Nowhere in his extended disquisition does he even entertain the possibility that legitimate taxpayer anger at public unions for bringing the state to the brink of bankruptcy might have something to do with the proposed anti-union legislation. After all, Wisconsin’s unions have managed to finagle compensation packages from taxpayers that the taxpayers themselves can’t get from their private employers!

Cronon’s blog triggered half a million hits—along with an investigation by Wisconsin’s Republican Party that promptly filed an open records law request demanding to see all his e-mails mentioning key state Republicans as well terms such as “recall” and “collective bargaining.”

Meanwhile, in Michigan, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market institute for which I have written, filed its own state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request against labor studies professors at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, all public universities, looking for any e-mails with the terms collective bargaining, Wisconsin, Madison, Scott Walker, and Maddow (as in Rachel, the MSNBC host). Mackinac claims that its FOIA request had nothing to do with Wisconsin’s. Nevertheless, it provoked a maelstrom of protest by many liberal pundits starting with Maddow herself who went totally ballistic on her show!

No doubt there is more than a hint of posturing in such liberal hyperventilating. The Wayne State’s Labor Studies Center is a fair target given that it has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of unions because of its history of labor activism. Hence it is not a stretch to assume that it is illegally directing its resources to help its Wisconsin union comrades. Its website openly stated—until it was cleansed in the wake of the controversy last week—that “strengthening the capacity of organized labor” is its central mission. It offered unions advice on how to recruit and train “an activist core of workplace mobilizers” because “political action does not have to be a dirty word.” It is deeply opposed to privatization of government services because that undermines public sector unions and offered a downloadable guide on how to fight privatization efforts, complete with a list of enemy organizations, including Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website. In 2006, it was forced to remove from its website a petition drive for a ballot initiative to raise Michigan’s minimum wage, a clear violation of Michigan’s campaign finance law that bars political advocacy with public dollars. But it continued to carry a 225-page downloadable activist’s handbook offering a “nuts-and-bolts guide” for creating a living wage campaign. The print version, co-authored by an ACORN employee, it said was available for $15 from ACORN’s DC office!

In essence, Wayne State has been using taxpayer dollars to help public sector unions extract more taxpayer dollars. (At least ALEC uses private membership dues to bankroll its causes.) It is utterly unimaginable that the left wouldn’t use every tool at its disposal—let alone a state open records law—to shut down any business school that, say, used public funds to advise companies on how to bust unions.

But none of this justifies conservatives’ current crusade against individual professors, not even Cronon, absent evidence that they are engaging in political advocacy in their capacity as public university officials as opposed to private citizens. The crusade might be legal, but it is also offensive. It abides by the letter of the law but violates its spirit.

State open records laws, like the federal Freedom of Information Act, empowers ordinary citizens to subpoena their government and expose corruption and malfeasance. It is not meant to go after private individuals not acting in an official capacity. Public university professors are paid by taxpayers, but they don’t make laws or control public funds. Their job is to explore and teach ideas, something that they can’t do effectively if they fear political reprisal. This is precisely why we have a commitment to academic freedom in this country.  

Going after professors’ private correspondence—on the pretext that it is taking place on government-funded computers through government-provided e-mail accounts—without credible evidence that they are engaged in anything more than expressing their own opinions is not just petty but dangerous. It turns open records laws into a weapon of one private citizen to intimidate another private citizen with whom she disagrees.

Ensuring that the government is properly spending our public dollars is a noble end—but not if it comes at the price of personal liberties. (For example, it serves the cause of accountability less and hurts the cause of personal liberty more when conservatives push drug tests on welfare recipients as a condition for government aid.) When there is a conflict between government accountability and liberty, those who are serious about individual liberty have to err on its side—or stop claiming that liberty is their end goal.

They can’t have it both ways.

Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation and a columnist at The Daily. A version of this column originally appeared at The Daily. Her husband is a professor at Michigan State University and although he has not received a FOIA request, she wouldn't object to it in his case.

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  • Federal Dog||

    Those "labor studies" departments are nothing but union training grounds: They are expressly political; have nothing to do with education and scholarship; and are trying to conceal openly political activity from criticism by pretending it's somehow "academic."

    Fuck them. They are not academics at all. Once political activists abuse government property to further profit themselves, public records acts apply to them, just as they do to every other part of the government.

  • MNG||

    "Those "labor studies" departments are nothing but union training grounds"

    Yeah, and don't get him started on those "business departments" and "management studies" programs. They're nothing but business training grounds!

  • ||

    If those business departments were training people to lobby the government for corporate hand outs, then I agree with your sentiment, MNG. However, training people to function in a business environment is wholly different from training people to become "activists."

    I don't have a problem with people being trained to be activists, I simply have a problem with the government paying for such a thing.

  • Tony||

    I have a problem with corporate america subsidizing academic departments, as it does with economics, and which is why uniquely among university disciplines, economics is dominated by the kooks.

  • ||

    If they are using their own money, tough shit.

  • saucy cardboard||

    Labor studies departments are essential. Working one's way up from manual laborer to foreman to union steward to local union president to Big Labor Boss is too time consuming. Much easier to go to a University, get a degree in Labor Relations and land a job representing "the little guy" (whom you would never associate with except for PR purposes) while earning a 6 digit salary with massive benefits and working in a posh office. The slow path can take decades. The more modern path can set you up for life by age 30.

  • DJF||

    So now Reason is saying that government employees are not open to investigation over misuses of government resources and money? If you don’t want your e-mails open to investigation by the public then don’t use the governments e-mail accounts and the publics money to send them.

    If this professor used his own e-mail account and paid for it then I believe he has a right to privacy but if he used taxpayer funded e-mail then its open to the public. Just like a private employer has the right to look at all e-mails using the employers computers. If you want something private then use your own money.

  • MNG||

    Do you think we should be able to get at records of government contractees?

  • ||

    Do you have a soft spot for rent seekers?

  • x,y||

    Yes, next question.

  • DJF||

    It depends what’s in the contract. Any communication with the government about the contract is open to inspection and internal communication would depend on what the contract says.

  • prolefeed||

    Unless it is a military secret that will get troops killed if revealed, then, yes.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    As they pertain to the contract? Yes.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Cronon found out first-hand what it's like when Alinsky is used against you.

  • Scruffy Nerd Herder||

    What about in the case of Michael Mann and VA AG Ken Cuccinelli? In that case, the AG is arguing for fraud, and not illegal advocacy.

    It's a thin line to walk. I'm not terribly fond of Cuccinelli, as I perceive him to be more of a political animal and glory hound than a force for limited government. However, if state employees involve themselves at the highest level of a political debate, should they be immune to legal inquiry?

    Personally, I think it much more productive to attack these people directly using intellectual arguments instead of legal methods. However I have to remember that most of our political leaders are not very intellectual but are mostly lawyers with a penchant for legal technicalities.

  • Ancap||

    The professor is immoral, therefore, evil.

    Use any means necessary...

    Or as 'Federal Dog' put it so succinctly: "Fuck them."

  • Mr Whipple®©™||

    Going after professors’ private correspondence—on the pretext that it is taking place on government-funded computers through sgovernment-provided e-mail accounts—without credible evidence that they are engaged in anything more than expressing their own opinions is not just petty but dangerous.

    In the private sector, your boss can go through your emails that you send on company computers using company email addresses. Professors of public universities are employees of "the people".

  • MJ||

    Yes, anyone with a lick of common sense should know that what you choose to do on your employer's phone and computer is not "private" in any meaningful way. Welcome to the real world Shikha Dalmia.

    I am also amused by the left's realization that the FOIA can be abused. It is as if they are saying "That was not supposed to be used against US!"

  • JoshINHB||

    FOIA isn't being abused in these cases.

    It's being used to investigate pro-union corruption. It's really no different than using it to uncover a criminal relationship between a vendor an a government purchasing agent.

  • ||

    "It is as if they are saying 'That was not supposed to be used against US!'"

    That is exactly what they are saying -- that it is perfectly acceptable for the political right to be silenced "by any means necessary" but heaven forbid the same thing being done to the faculty whom they support.

    The professor is paid (by the taxpayers) to educate children -- anything else he does ON TAXPAYER TIME is subject to public scrutiny. And the fact that anyone has trouble with that shows just how hypocritical the so-called Libertarian movement is becoming....

  • Ben P.||

    We're not the board of directors, or the executive staff, of the public sphere, dude. We're the stockholders. We vote the bums in. We vote the bums out. Are you saying that if I own 1 share of IBM, I should be allowed to see some regional manager's corporate emails?

  • Ancap||

    Professors of public universities are employees of "the people".

    Oh really?

    Then as one of the 'people,' I want him fired!

  • Mr Whipple®©™||

    Good luck with that.

    Jamie Dimon is an employee of the shareholders of JP Morgan. Upper management is chosen by the Board of Directors. The shareholders vote to choose the Board. Upper management then hires and fires employees. Sound familiar? The difference is, you can always sell your shares of JP Morgan if you don't like the way the company is being run. You can't sell your "shares" of the government and opt out.

  • ||

    What I love about Wal-Mart is that if I think it sucks, I can go somewhere else that has better products, shorter lines, or friendly service. (I almost typed "friendlier" but friendly suffices.)

    If you don't like the customer service or wait times at the DMV, suck it. Even if it's a ten hour wait, just shut the fuck up, bend over, and take it.

    This is the difference between government and the free market.

  • ||

    If you don't like the customer service or wait times at the DMV, suck it. Even if it's a ten hour wait, just shut the fuck up, bend over, and take it.

    AAA, bitches!

  • Abdul||

    One of the lessons you eventually learn as a bureaucrat (and I am one) is that you are not using your email. You are using the people's email. Therefore, expect the people to find out when you are fowarding jokes about blowjobs, etc.

    Government Managers and IT people should brief incoming employees about how their email systems are different from a private citizen's in that they can be foia'd and are far more likely to be swept up in a litigation discovery request.

  • ||

    Exactly. I am a government employee and I do not use to my government email account for personal messages. Is it that hard for these professors to use their personal computer for sending personal messages?

    While I disagree with the author about this issue of disclosing the contents the publicly supported email accounts of these professors, she alludes to some of the recent proposals in Florida to drug test welfare recipients and state employees here. I am more in agreement with the author on that issue. I hope Reason does an article soon on that debate down here in Florida that has raised issues of personal liberty, cost v. benefits, and crony capitalism (although Rick Scott now says the company his wife owns will not profit from these drug tests).

  • Spartacus||

    I am a Floriduh state employee as well, at a university no less. One of the first things we tell new faculty--and hammer home on a regular basis--is that your university email account is very public, and if you want to say something you would rather not see in the newspaper, then either use your own personal email or pick up the phone.

    Unless Wisconsin just adopted their public records law this year, they really have no reason to complain. The Professor should have known better.

  • Ancap||

    Long live the 'litigation discovery request'

  • ||

    Why are they rerunning this article? It is no smarter now than it was when they ran it last week.

  • ||

    "Going after professors’ private correspondence—on the pretext that it is taking place on government-funded computers through sgovernment-provided e-mail accounts—without credible evidence that they are engaged in anything more than expressing their own opinions is not just petty but dangerous. It turns open records laws into a weapon of one private citizen to intimidate another private citizen with whom she disagrees."

    My God that is a giant pile of stupid. If you want to engage in political activity, use your private email account.

    Does Reason just hate Shika and want her to look stupid and that is why they keep running this article?

  • Ancap||

    Does Reason just hate Shika and want her to look stupid and that is why they keep running this article?

    There's a method to their madness...

    (On the Discovery Channel...)

  • MNG||

    Apart from whether an employer has the right to go through employees email accounts and such, do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing? What is the result of it? Is it people with more or less options? People with more or less privacy? People feeling more or less "free?"

  • DJF||

    But are you “free” when you steal someone elses goods and use them or are you a thief? If I was to say to you, let me use your car and I will deliver food to the hungry and then instead used your car to drag race would you consider me ‘free’ or would you consider me to be using your property in way which you did not agree too? And if you asked me how I used your car and I would not tell you, do you think that you have a right to investigate?

    The public gives E-mail accounts to public employees so they can do the publics business, not their own personal business.

  • MNG||

    So by your analogy you'd be cool with every employer putting GPS on their company cars to monitor every left turn employees make.

    And you're the "anti-authoritarian" in this debate...

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    Sure, why not? If that's what the company wants to do, they can do it. No one is forced to work for a company if they find the conditions of employment disagreeable.

  • MNG||

    Again, apart from whether they have the right to do it, should they? Would you consider it a good thing if all employers decided to exercise that right tomorrow?

  • DJF||

    So you are saying that government, company and even the private cars used by others are “free” to use and the owners can’t investigate how these vehicles are used? If you want to “freely” use a vehicle then buy one. If you use someone else’s vehicle then the owner has the right to investigate its use.

    Also many trucking and other companies already do track their vehicles.

  • MNG||

    Again, apart from whether they have the right to do it, should they? Would you consider it a good thing if all employers decided to exercise that right tomorrow?

  • prolefeed||

    You're posing a hypothetical that wouldn't happen. Many people would refuse to work for employers that did intrusive things, and would open competing businesses to fill the market niche for people like you who find that objectionable.

    Would you consider it a good thing if the government used coercive laws to prevent employers from having that choice to choose whether or not to monitor the equipment and employee time they paid for?

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    Keep moving those goal posts. First, it's, "Are you cool with it?" Now, it's "Do you think it's a good idea?" Anyway, yes, it's a good idea. The company needs to know that when they pay for car repairs and gas, they are paying for you to do work, not to go home or to a bar. Why exactly do you think this is a bad idea? No one is suggesting putting a tracker on an employee's personal vehicle.

  • MNG||

    Since when is "are you cool with it" and "is it a good idea" some kind of radical goal post shift?

    So you think it would be a great thing if your employer put gps on your company car, counted your keystrokes on the company computer, regularly read your email, and hey, put a camera on you while at work broadcasting out to the lobby of your business as well as his office. Those are great ideas in your opinion.

    And you are an extremist in defense of liberty.

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    Yes, those are two different questions. If you ask me, "Are you cool with people using drugs?" I'd say yes, that's a personal choice. If you ask me, "Do you think it's a good idea to do heroin?" I'd say no. I'm pretty sure you can see the difference but you're just being intentionally obtuse.

    So you think it would be a great thing if your employer put gps on your company car, counted your keystrokes on the company computer, regularly read your email, and hey, put a camera on you while at work broadcasting out to the lobby of your business as well as his office. Those are great ideas in your opinion.

    I knew you'd come up with something if you didn't get the answer you wanted. No one moves the goal posts like you. Now it's not just GPS on cars, but key loggers and cameras. I'm done with this conversation.

  • MNG||

    You were done when you started dude, you just didn't know it.

  • prolefeed||

    So you think it would be a great thing if your employer put gps on your company car, counted your keystrokes on the company computer, regularly read your email, and hey, put a camera on you while at work broadcasting out to the lobby of your business as well as his office. Those are great ideas in your opinion.

    I would not have a problem with an employer doing those things at work if they paid me enough. If they paid me a ten cent an hour premium, nope.

    Just by showing up for work for an employer, you're allowing them to tell you what to do with your time, and giving them the right to monitor that that time is being spent productively. In exchange, you get paid a salary. Do you have any problem with any of that?

  • Tony||

    As long as you're OK with workers freely assembling to create leverage to negotiate working conditions. Or maybe even citizens freely engaging democracy to enact universal minimum standards.

    Don't really like either of those? Must be a libertarian freedom lover. It must look like freedom from the business owner's chair (or the brown noser's).

  • Realist||

    Yep!

  • ||

    Do you even know what "authoritarian" means, MNG?

  • MNG||

    "au·thor·i·tar·i·an/əˌTHôriˈte(ə)rēən/
    Noun: An authoritarian person.
    Adjective: Favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom"

    Do you Tulpa? Bosses are authority figures to most people, and look at this thread: "The Boss, the Boss, he own de place he should do whadever he want, whadever he want!"

  • ||

    Please explain where obedience comes up in this discussion.

  • MNG||

    The boss is an authority and people here are celebrating his right to set rules that should then be followed to the letter.

    This isn't math.

  • ||

    The boss is an authority and people here are celebrating his right to set rules that should then be followed to the letter.

    No, they're not. They're claiming that the boss has the right to look at what you're doing with his property.

  • ||

    You don't have to obey a boss, you can choose to not work for him. A boss has no power over your personal freedom.

  • MNG||

    Right, because most people don't need bosses, they can live off the land like wild turkeys.

  • prolefeed||

    People get to pick who they work for. They get to choose how much privacy they give up in exchange for their wages. If you like a LOT of privacy at work, there are jobs like that, but they tend to pay less. And if you find the notion of an employer obnoxious, you can become your own employer, and work your ass off -- because being a successful employer is HARD.

  • ||

    Goalposts in motion again.

    If a boss wanted to put a tracker on my car, I'd demand a hefty raise. If I didn't get it, I'd quit.

    If a boss wants to put trackers on the company cars, I can quit or I can tolerate it. I cannot demand that his property be set up the way I like it.

    It's not hard to understand.

  • ||

    When you work for the government you give up your privacy on those computer networks. Everyone knows that. There is plenty of warning about that. And he is an employee of the tax payer. The tax payers have a right to know what he is doing at work. Suppose instead of supporting unions he was sending emails out to racist hate sites, would it be your opinion that the people of the state have no right to know about that?

  • MNG||

    "Suppose instead of supporting unions he was sending emails out to racist hate sites, would it be your opinion that the people of the state have no right to know about that?"

    I'm a pretty big defender of privacy in general John, so no I wouldn't want them snooping in the racist guys email.

    This works both ways, when an employer entrusts an employee with something so generally I think the employee can have some privacy right in it. Most people have to work for someone most of the day, it would be crappy for us to lose our privacy during that time.

  • DJF||

    If you want privacy don’t do your private work when you are suppose to be doing the employers work. They did not hire you and pay you to do private work. Also if you want private talk use your own private cell phone and not the company phone.

    If you worked for me I would be checking up on you all day long since you seem to think that you can get paid while doing your own business.

  • MNG||

    Nobody works 100% of eight hour days for any employer, with the exception of sweat shops maybe. People answer personal calls at work, they talk with friends that may stop by, they send emails or surf the web. Sometimes they do this on break, but sometimes (horrors!) they do not. Can that kind of thing cross a line where it is unfair to the employer? Sure, but the line can be crossed the other way where you get a micromanaging dick as an employer. He may have the right to be such a dick, but what does it say about you that celebrate it?

  • ||

    Nobody works 100% of eight hour days for any employer, with the exception of sweat shops maybe.

    As if we needed more evidence that MNG has never had a job outside a university or maybe consulting gigs.

    The "chatting with friends who stop by" is my favorite bit of evidence for that point. WTF?

  • MNG||

    Like I said there is a line that can be crossed, but it goes both ways. Most employers I know are very reasonable about allowing people to chat with friends for a little while.

    Who do you work for, Ebenezeer Scrooge? I work for a private firm btw, I don't think I've ever had a government job...

  • ||

    Many workplaces come down hard on the chatting with people who drop by the workplace, both because it distracts from work and because it provides an easy conduit for union goons to do their schpiel on multiple employees at once. NLRA does not allow employers to differentiate between unionizers and other workplace visitors.

  • prolefeed||

    Actually, hundreds of millions of people around the globe and in the U.S. have jobs where they work their asses off when they are on the job instead of slacking off.

    Hell, my wife is the counterexample to your contention that no one works that hard.

    CEOs, for example, tend to be pretty tightly scheduled.

    I mean, nice for you that you have a job where you can slack off, but you're likely getting paid less than if you had a high-powered job.

  • Doc S||

    "If you want privacy don’t do your private work when you are suppose to be doing the employers work. They did not hire you and pay you to do private work."

    I'm sure none of these posts from anyone stating the companies should monitor their employees actions are coming from people that are currently at work being paid to post on article comments sections.

  • ||

    Tu quoque FTL.

  • prolefeed||

    I think it is more that these employers know their employees are posting on Reason and are OK with that, in exchange for paying those employees less than if they were working their tails off.

  • ||

    Most people have to work for someone most of the day, it would be crappy for us to lose our privacy during that time.

    ????????????

    This is on a level with that Madison pizza-shop employee saying that his labor rights are violated when the boss demands that he make the pizzas in a certain way. Except MNG isn't a zit-faced teenager so I'm not sure what his excuse is.

  • MNG||

    Maybe you should take a seat when I tell you this Tulpa, but most people do think bosses are authority figures. I know, I know, according to libertarians you can always quit and live off the land so there is no power over you and all, but a lot of people beg to differ on that. As such some restrictions on those authority figures are actually seen as promoting rather than inhibiting choice for many people.

  • ||

    People's misconceptions should not be a basis for public policy. But this deserves mention too:

    according to libertarians you can always quit and live off the land so there is no power over you and all

    This is pretty cheeky coming from someone who defends the legitimacy of taxation -- and spending of that tax revenue on whatever strikes government fancy -- by saying you can just move to another country if you don't like it.

  • MNG||

    Do you think HR or EAP emails about an employee's medical or mental health problems should be disseminated to the public if they are requested? How about their tax forms with their names and social security information and number of dependents and such?

  • DJF||

    This is why they have to go through the courts to get this information since then other laws concerning health and tax privacy can be considered.

  • MNG||

    But why should this be excluded? Why shouldn't these be public? The employee may be lying on their tax form, the public may want to know about the mental and medical health of their employees, etc., etc.

  • ||

    Those aren't allowed to be distributed in the private sector either.

  • MNG||

    But why? Why does your boss worship fail at this line? Aren't the records the property of the boss? Did anyone force the employee to fill them out?

  • ||

    Yes, MNG, someone did force the employee to fill out those W-2 forms. Guess who.

  • Ben P.||

    Except, insofar as I understand this ruckus, *he's not being accused of hate crimes, or drug crimes, or sex crimes*. He's being accused of -- gasp! -- taking political stances! So the idea is that folks want to read his work emails regarding any political statement's he's made over the course of his employment.

    I think the article has it right -- it's totally in with the letter of the law, but the spirit, not so much. The spirit of the law was meant to shine the light of day on the machine that, without the safeguard of public accountability, could run roughshod over the little guy in the night.

    So, instead, it's being used against a single guy who has no power to make policy, no power to influence policy, because he might have said something someone else disagrees with and they want to embarrass him.

    Legal? Sure. Scummy? Fucking A.

  • ||

    "Suppose instead of supporting unions he was sending emails out to racist hate sites, would it be your opinion that the people of the state have no right to know about that?"

    I can answer that one -- *if* a professor was sending email to "racist hate sites" and got caught at it, there would be a discrimination complaint to either the Education Dept's OCR and/or the state antidiscrimination agency and his *PRIVATE* email (which traveled over the university network and thus is archived) would either become public outright or at least "public" to the sense of being used against him in the complaint.

    Do you really think that a professor could write something racist and then get away with it by claiming it was "private"? Have you set foot on a college campus in the past decade???

  • MJ||

    Because of the corporate governance laws recently passed as result of the economic meltdown, employers are now required to keep all such things as e-mail records available for use in lawsuits and government investigations. Private sector employees have no privacy, not merely because the employer owns the system, the employer is required by government regulation to afford their employees no privacy on employer owned equipment. The employers no longer hve a choice in setting their own policies in such matters.

  • DJF||

    Showing once again how government overreach makes things worse. I am glad that you are finally realizing how evil it is to expand government power.

  • Ancap||

    Context determines the bottom line.

    You're employed for a specific task...

    Anything outside of that is... well... let's just say 'negotiable,' in order to be kind...

    Otherwise... it's just a breach of contract. You've got no right to do anything, except what you're employed to do.

  • MNG||

    "You've got no right to do anything, except what you're employed to do."

    Anti-authoritarian indeed!

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    I don't think anyone in this thread is claiming to be anti-authoritarian. I think that, if I may speak for the others, we see employment as a two way contract. If either party is unhappy with the terms of the contract they are free to not to enter into the contract in the first place.

  • BigT||

    Precisely. A boss is an authority figure within his area of responsibility and authority. No further.

  • cynical||

    In cases where there is good reason to believe that public resources are being diverted to serve non-public ends, why not?

    At any rate, given that the left has recently been in the news for using FOIA to grab information on private citizens who have no choice but to deal with government (ie, gun owners) instead of people who choose to collect a nice paycheck at taxpayer expense, they've really got no room to complain.

  • ||

    What is it about authoritarian lefty professors and beards and glasses?

  • Ancap||

    Pseudo-professors, old and blind?

  • Ice Nine||

    The denim shirt. You forgot the denim shirt.

  • Ancap||

    HAHAHA!

  • MNG||

    Er, how is this guy an "authoritarian?"

  • MNG||

    I mean, admist all of the people here crying "But the Boss, the Boss, the Boss owns all the stuff and should call all the shots, Nuff said" it is amusing to finger this guy as "authoritarian..."

  • Doc S||

    Gotta say i'm with you on this one.

  • ||

    You don't know what authoritarian means, MNG.

  • saucy cardboard||

    ... and blue Volvo station wagons, Birkenstocks.

  • ||

    If Bollywood ever made an Ayn Rand Biopic, it would have to star Shikha in the title role.

  • Ancap||

    Do not blaspheme...

  • ||

    It would be a romantic musical and Ramesh Ponnuru will play Frank Connor.

  • Ancap||

    You're now, really playing with fire...

  • MNG||

    "It would be a romantic musical and Ramesh Ponnuru will play Frank Connor."

    Alright, that is f*cking hilarious.

  • Really?||

    I nominate Kal Penn to play Nathaniel Branden.

  • robc||

    I dont buy the premise. I dont think its possible to abuse open records laws. Well, except by not allowing legit requests.

  • kinnath||

    Bingo

  • ||

    And if the "harassing" requests only serve to show that the professor truly is doing his job, truly is working all the hours faculty claim every time they demand more money, then this would serve to show that. And thus blow up in the face of the person making the request.

    What was it about "sunlight being the best disinfectant"? Disinfectants kill bacteria of all sort, no matter where they may have come from...

  • rather ||

    There is plenty of hypocrisy on all sides of this blowup
    He who is without sin politics cast the first stone

  • Ancap||

    I'm in!

  • rather||

    I wouldn't be surprise to know a libertarian owns a glazier business ;-)

  • MJ||

    "Public university professors are paid by taxpayers, but they don’t make laws or control public funds. Their job is to explore and teach ideas, something that they can’t do effectively if they fear political reprisal. This is precisely why we have a commitment to academic freedom in this country."

    So the only government employees subject to sunshine laws like FOIA should be ones who make laws and control public funds? Carving out job description exceptions can make such open government laws a joke by giving bureaucrats rabbit holes to hide their shady dealings in. Or does Dalmia only want to put a circle of protection around professors?

  • Obamacare Supporter||

    Carving out job description exceptions can make such open government laws a joke by giving bureaucrats rabbit holes to hide their shady dealings in.

    That would be outrageous!

  • MNG||

    "So the only government employees subject to sunshine laws like FOIA should be ones who make laws and control public funds?"

    Well, yeah. As you note their supervisors can already check what the line workers are doing. Opening up the line workers to public scrutiny could have all kinds of negative effects on a public workforce that we (well, most people) want to be effective without the positive payoff of putting sunshine on policy-making/fund control.

  • ||

    Just like when the CEO shows up at a factory to observe the line workers, their job effectiveness drops off a cliff.

  • MNG||

    If he shows up in the company bathroom stall to make sure his workers are actually going to the bathroom on bathroom breaks I imagine effectiveness may fall, but more analgous would be if he put a camera in there and let all stockholders watch on close circuit tv.

  • MNG||

    Cuz we are talking not about the right of a supervisor to snoop, but for this to be released publicly.

  • ||

    1. Plenty of workplaces have surveillance cameras in the workplace watching for theft, sabotaging equipment, and even efficiency purposes such as reducing goofing off on the job. So long as workers are informed of the surveillance, I don't see the problem.

    2. Most companies wouldn't distribute it publicly because they don't want to reveal trade secrets or have workplace strife wind up on YouTube for their customers to see. But if they did, who cares? That's like a McDonald's employee complaining that people in the dining area and at the counter can see almost everything that goes on in the kitchen.

  • ||

    Team Red appears to be learning Team Blue tricks. And so it goes.

  • CONTROL||

    We learn from the best

  • KAOS ||

    What would you do without your boogeyman?

  • ||

    This article goes in the bin with Ms Dalmia's "Hummers are more environmentally friendly than Priuses" article.

  • Bill Clinton||

    Dalmia's giving hummers??? Where?

  • ||

    How strange that so many libertarians, particularly Beltway-dwelling Reason editors and writers, want to give public sector workers "civil rights" that private sector workers don't have.

    The Bill of Rights pertains to coercive relationships like that between government and citizen, not voluntary ones like that between employer and employee, even if that employer is the government.

  • MNG||

    Could it be that these writers like to see choice, privacy and autonomy expanded? Perhaps they realize that, yes, taxpayers are the boss in the public sphere and that as we are the boss we can either be micromanaging jerks invading the privacy and autonomy of our employees all the time or we can be bosses that respect our employees privacy and autonomy. Maybe they favor the latter even while realizing we have the right to be the former?

    I'd like to know what is up with anti-authoritarians such as yourself having such a problem with that...

  • ||

    your last point is false. at least how it has been interpreted. for example, as a public employee... i can criticize my employer (govt) and generally speaking that speech is protected.

    i cannot do that and be protected (from job discipline) if my employer is private.

    first of all, the highest form of protected speech is political speech. speech critical of govt. employer generally IS political speech

    iow, if you work for starbux and say howard schultz is a bad businessman, they can fire you.

    if you work for LAPD and say the chief is a bad chief, they can't

    as it should be

    as for privacy, though... govt. email is publically disclosable. i don't care if you are an academic, a firefighter, or whatever

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    I never expected to read an article like this on Reason. If you work for the public i.e. a government employee, every e-mail you send, every site you visit, and every phone call you make using company provided computers and phones can be monitored by your boss--the public. This is how things work in every other business.

  • MNG||

    "Public university professors are paid by taxpayers, but they don’t make laws or control public funds. Their job is to explore and teach ideas, something that they can’t do effectively if they fear political reprisal."

    This is the heart of her argument. FOIA laws are supposed to inform citizens of government corruption and polic-making. Is this guy involved in corruption or policymaking? It would be like going after the DMV workers email because you think she was forwarding "Vote Obama" emails with her DMV email account...It's even worse because the DMV worker is not supposed to be espousing and discussing ideas, in this case ideas about labor relations.

  • ||

    If the lady who works at the DMV wants to read and send pro-Obama emails, I won't stop her, but she should use her own fucking email account. Is it really that hard? And if company policy states "don't use your personal email at work", then she should send the emails when she gets home or isn't being paid with taxpayer dollars to work. This holds true for whatever government job the person is working in.

    There is supposed to be a strict separation of party and government; i.e. non-appointed positions should be non-political.

  • MNG||

    So you agree that non-appointed positions should be treated differently than appointed employees.

    Maybe they should be treated differently under FOIA laws?

  • ||

    The only difference is that you expect a Bush appointee to dutifully kiss the ring and an Obama appointee to politely bow. Nobody is going to be surprised if Condi Rice goes around stumping for Bush's reelection campaign. The way to get rid of appointed people is by electing a new appointer. There is no way for a private citizen to get rid of an everyday stateworker (like at your average DMV), so the expectations of those people is that they separate their politics from their work in an official capacity. That does not mean a double standard is necessary under FOIA.

  • ||

    Is this guy involved in corruption or policymaking?

    We won't know if we don't look at the emails.

  • ||

    "It would be like going after the DMV workers email because you think she was forwarding "Vote Obama" emails with her DMV email account." -- And if there were persistent complaints that everyone with a McCain sticker on his/her/its car flunked the road test, this would be a perfectly acceptable thing to find out because it would show the evidence of bias. And haven't we heard the complaints of bias in academia????

  • Pete Guither||

    I find it disturbing that most of the commenters seem to be failing to understand the nature of the fishing expedition here.

    I'm reading a lot of "If you want to engage in political advocacy, use your personal email account" as a justification for going after these people's email messages. How do you know that they didn't? There's been no evidence that I've heard that anybody used their email account improperly.

    What is happening is a fishing expedition into the correspondence of individuals in the hopes of finding something improper.

    That's just as offensive as searching someone's car for drugs because you don't like the color of their skin. It may be more legally acceptable, but that doesn't make it right.

  • MJ||

    Yes, it most likely is a fishing expedition. But the theory behind government sunshine laws makes such fishing expeditions possible. You cannot have an open records law and protect government employees privacy when using government equipment. The two notions are incompatable.

  • Pete Guither||

    Yes, such fishing expeditions are possible. Yes, in order to allow for government accountability, individual employees must give up a certain amount of privacy. That's all true.

    However, the point that the author was making was that just because it is legal and proper, doesn't make it right to use these open records laws as a way to retaliate against an individual whose views you dislike.

    The same thing would be true if liberal groups wanted to view all of the emails of a conservative professor, simply because they didn't like his OpEd on gun rights, in the hopes of finding something he wrote in an email regarding lobbying for gun rights. They would have the legal right to do so, but it would be wrong for them to abuse the open records act that way.

  • ||

    You absolutely should not be using your official email for anything that could possibly be interpreted as improper....so it's not like your average fishing expedition into someone's personal life. There are plenty of things that we do in life that are not illegal or even immoral but we would not like publicly known, but that should not be the case for our actions in performance of public duties.

  • Pete Guither||

    Depending on the particular employment agreement you have and applicable state policies, many state employees are allowed and even encouraged to use their work email for personal correspondence, as long as it does not violate any laws nor is used for prohibited political purposes. So yes, it can be a fishing expedition into someone's personal life.

  • ||

    FOIA takes precedence over employment agreements. If you don't like having the US Code attached as a rider to your empoyment contract, get an honest job in the private sector.

  • Pete Guither||

    Of course it takes precedence. Did you read my comments?

    Yes, FOIA is the law. Yes, groups have the right to ask to read his emails. Yes, he needs to be aware that what he writes might end up being read by people who don't like him, including people who are bigoted against public employees. That's all true, and nobody is disputing that, despite what you seem to be trying to say.

    It's just a dick move, that's all.

  • ||

    if you are using your work email , by DEFINITION any correspondence is not personal. that's definitional.

    it is the case, that even some personal email if public employees use it for public matters but in order to try to get around disclosure is also PUBLIC, but it is always the case that if you are using the public email, it's public.

    now, in my job certain emails that are public are not subject to disclosure - if for example they reference a current investigation where disclosure could harm the investigation - that's true to an extent, but those exceptions are rare

    people may recall that in the rodney king debacle, officer's communications on their vehicle cruisers communications system were subpoenaed and used against them.

    ours are stored at a central website, and as far as i know - for eternity

  • ||

    That's just as offensive as searching someone's car for drugs because you don't like the color of their skin.

    Not even remotely. This fellow is not being targeted for his race or another bigoted reason, and his official email account is not his private property.

    The fact that you feel it necessary to embellish your example with such hot-button issues betrays your lack of confidence in your position.

  • Pete Guither||

    And support of unions isn't a hot-button issue?

    I never said that his official email account is his private property. I said that searching the email account is legally acceptable (in other words not his private property). It's completely legally acceptable. It's still a reprehensible way of going after an individual.

  • ||

    Opposing support of unions is not bigotry, while opposing black people is. Work on your reading, please. Shoring up your analogy evaluation wouldn't hurt either.

  • Pete Guither||

    Opposing support of unions is not bigotry by itself. But read this comment thread. A lot of people on this thread are ready to hate the professor simply because he supports unions. And I would be surprised if the motivation behind the fishing expedition is little more than retaliation against someone for being vocally pro-union. Not a whole lot of difference.

  • rather||

    Couldn't pass it?
    Don't use epi as a character reference!

  • Doc S||

    As much as I dont support the system I actually see this as proof of it working. I feel a lot safer with you not having access to a gun, maybe they had access to prior mental records or nut job internet posts.

  • Doc S||

    and don't worry, it's a joke no need to get too riled up about this one.

  • ||

    How many republicans are on record as supporting the elimination of all gun laws, federal, state and municipal?

    Seems to me that a party of liberty would be shouting / screaming to end all gun laws.

  • Doc S||

    Unions played their part years ago and for the most part are no longer needed, the power they have is disgusting. If they're needed in the future they can form again 30 years from now.

  • rather||

    Unions played their part years ago and for the most part are no longer needed, the power they have is disgusting. If they're needed in the future they can form again 30 years from now.

    So you acknowledge unions were needed to protect employees, who are now masters of their fate but you want employer abuse to reassert itself before phoenixing a union?

    How about just sensible reform?

  • Doc S||

    Yes I do acknowledge their needed in the past. And I believe their need has dissipated.
    where did i ever say i was against sensible reform? I think taking some of the power from unions is indeed sensible reform

  • Tony||

    You don't get to strip people of freedoms because you think the freedom is no longer necessary.

  • ||

    You've now come full circle and zealously support the 2nd Amendment and open carry laws.......right?

  • Tony||

    I disagree with the supreme court's opinion.

  • ||

    As a libertarian imbedded in the belly of the beast, I absolutely agree that all official email of all federal employees should be open and available for all to review. I really believe that I'm here to do public work and therefore don't have anything to hide. There is nothing "authoritarian" about it.

  • jkp||

    Exactly. If you're on the public dime, you're liable to get publicly scrutinized.

  • ||

    bingo! i'm in the same situation. if i have something private to say, i don't say it in dept. email. it's not friggen rocket science. academics should be subject to, and are subject to, the same public disclosure laws i am.

    some people here may think otoh that email sent using private email accounts but done during work hours and using dept. computers IS subject to public disclosure. not in my state it aint.

  • ||

    I think Shikha has been slapped around enough on this thread. I have nothing to add.

    Although I have no doubt that MNG's special pleading for pubsecs will come back to haunt him on a later thread.

  • Tony||

    As has been explained, it doesn't matter what's technically legal. Shouldn't libertarians resit the urge to terrorize people's private lives no matter what's permitted? Scratch a conservative libertarian and so often you find a run-of-the-mill authoritarian who hates paying taxes. Nothing good can come from undereducated conservative assholes attacking academics. It's happened before in this country and many others. Surely even government-phobes can learn to appreciate the value of academic freedom.

  • prolefeed||

    Nothing good can come from undereducated conservative assholes attacking academics.

    So you'd be OK with well-educated liberals who are civic-minded and admirable poking around in the emails of conservatives working for the government?

    So you think conservatives and people you don't like should have fewer rights than people you do like?

    VEEERY telling modifiers.

  • Tony||

    I don't think political interests of either side should poke around academics' private correspondence. I think it's frightening.

    It's just usually the undereducated conservative assholes who do this sort of thing.

  • ||

    if it's on the public's email, it is not your private life. by definition

    that applies to me, and every other public employee

  • prolefeed||

    "terrorize people's private lives" =/= "looking into emails sent on public computers on public time"

    "private lives" =/= "time at work getting paid by the public"

  • Tony||

    "public school professor" =/= "Republican slave bitch"

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

  • goallen||

    ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

  • goallen||

    ty rights, etc. seem like a more accurate measure of freedom than democracy.

  • دلعني||

    good man

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