One of the things George Orwell did not foresee was electronic mail. At least he doesn’t mention it in 1984. Nonetheless, e-mail is a prime instance of Big Brother.
While an e-mail will usually be generated on an individual PC, as soon as the send button gets moused, the message gets sent to a mail server belonging to either the host organization or the Internet Service Provider (ISP). It then gets broken down into chunks that are sailed out across the internet to accumulate on the mail server of the (each) recipient. The e-mail then sits on that server until it is read and deleted by the recipient – maybe. Because of increased Yankee government reporting laws, both originating organization (ISP) and receiving organization (ISP) may keep a copy of that message.
This also gives rise to some interesting legal issues. Who owns that message? Clearly, it is neither the sender nor the recipient, but is it the organization of the sender or the organization of the recipient?
Regardless, there are copies of those e-mails on the organization (ISP) mail server and they are freely open to being inspected – unless they are encrypted, and more organizations forbid member encryption. So the organization looks at the message and determines whether its work related, liability free, and innocuous, even necessary. If not, wrath descends on the sender, and often, the recipient.
One example of this is the Yankee government. In the Washington Times feed this morning, I got an article on how the YG is cracking down on e-mail misusers.[Link] The bulk of the article is concerned with e-mail of a partisan nature, usually encouraging the recipients to support some candidate for office.
My first thought on this is that it demonstrates the stupidity (or, at least, ignorance) of these senders. Anyone who is brain handicapped enough to send out political e-mails over a YG network, knowing full well the impropriety and illegality of such under the Hatch Act, deserves some special accommodation – like being assigned to inspect the toilet paper rolls in the tinkleplatzen to assure that the rolls breaks over rather than under. I would have expected such people to have probably killed themselves in childhood by ingesting drain cleanser or setting their garments afire, but evidently some have slipped through.
All they had to do to avoid this whole thing was to copy the addresses onto a disk or memory stick, open a web mail account, and send the message from the web mail account. And if their organization has locked out removable file storage (Yes, Virginia, some of the executives in the YG are that paranoid and distrustful.) then they can print the list out, and then scan it in on another PC and run an OCR program. Yes this requires a bit of technical know-how, but it is less than what any reasonable adult would consider to be minimal PC literacy so even the lower three sigma of the civil service population should be able to do this.
What I find more difficult are the “Look At This!” messages. These are almost never partisan, except in a possibly negative sense, but they are almost always going to offend or even intimidate someone. The problem with them is that if you don’t control them, then you end up with high level disruption of the workplace with the offended filing grievances and lawsuits, and if you control them too much, the morale in the workplace is so low that people start carrying weapons.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of managers, and more executives (at least by percentage,) who think that the best employee is a bound, gagged, slave, preferably with surgical alterations along the lines of those described in The Child Buyer. This type of attitude is not uncommon in government, state and local too, not just the YG, because the politicians and the political appointees are the only real humans there. The civil and military service bodies are just that. Unfortunately, these attitudes slop over into things like e-mail so that an organization can go from being a robust, high morale group one day and one e-mail review later be stuffed into cattle cars on their way to the bureaucratic equivalent of Auschwitz.
Sadly, the fault also lies on the back of the sender. Some folks seem unable to grasp the idea that if you stick your hand through the cage bars to pet the lion, wou may not get your hand back.