The New York Times has a front-page article today about couples spying on each other's email, webpage-viewing history, and cell phone use. This is non-news to most people, but what about academic e-spying?
The most serious incident I've had to deal with involved a postdoc's reading (and making copies of) my email and other computer files, but that was 7-8 years ago -- before computer security was taken as seriously as it is today. The postdoc (referred to in previous posts as 'the criminally insane postdoc') was fired, but because of that e-spying episode and another incident, my feelings towards internet communications can be fairly described as 'paranoid'.
I am not extreme about it -- for example, I am fond of internet shopping, and dozens of internet commerce sites have my credit card numbers stored on them. Furthermore, if I were completely paranoid, I probably wouldn't have this blog. When it comes to using the internet to communicate, though, I am less trusting. I suppose this is good in a way because it would discourage me from writing rude and salacious things in email messages, were I so inclined.
Some of my colleagues worry about internet security when sending or receiving reference letters. I have had a few students read paper copies of reference letters I had written for them (in one case this involved the student's opening a sealed envelope with my signature across the flap). And, as I've written before, sometimes people are shown their reference letters for tenure or promotion even when the letters are supposed to be confidential. Therefore, letters on paper are not necessarily more secure than electronic letters.
There are enough ways for academics to 'steal' (borrow) ideas and data without resorting to e-spying, so I imagine that such activities are mostly the realm of the crazies and the maliciously paranoid. But I could be wrong..
3 days ago