Editorial: Personal e-mail doesn’t exist

We all scratch our heads when it comes to social media and electronic communications. How could someone intelligent and self-aware use their work device for clearly inappropriate messages?

Or, how could a publicly elected official argue a message related to city business is private?   

In this issue, Law Times has two pieces that touch upon privacy of communications from personal electronic devices.  One focuses on an order by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, which led to the release of an e-mail by the City of Oshawa.

Councillor Nancy Diamond had sent the e-mail from a personal device and private account to a lawyer, shortly before a City of Oshawa council meeting where the lawyer was chosen to look into allegations of wrongdoing by the city and its staff.

 “The city submits that the record does not relate to its mandate and functions but rather to the independent and personal actions of the councillor in the context of her personal or political activities. It submits that the councillor’s interaction with the investigator was a personal matter, and not a core function of the city. I disagree,” said the order by adjudicator Gillian Shaw. The decision is being seen as precedent-setting by many legal professionals.

Another piece focuses on Bring Your Own Device Policies in workplaces. In the article, a lawyer recommends employers have written policies on how employees can use their personal devices for work matters.

The truth is, in 2016, there is no such thing as personal e-mail or personal communications. Public servants live their working lives aware that the records they create could be subject to scrutiny, under freedom-of-information and access-to-information requests.

In my experience, it would be unthinkable to discuss work matters in personal e-mail or with personal devices.

A wise advertising campaign once counselled teenagers not to put anything on social media they wouldn’t want their family to see. 

I’d suggest all working professionals use the same barometer: If you aren’t comfortable with your sentiments on a particular matter becoming public, do not put it into writing in the first place. After all, the Internet is forever. And everywhere.

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