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Most office workers assume that the messages they send to [#permalink]
05 Apr 2009, 18:37
Most office workers assume that the messages they send to each other via electronic mail are as private as a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting. That assumption is wrong. Although it is illegal in many areas for an employer to eavesdrop on private conversations or telephone calls—even if they take place on a company-owned telephone—there are no clear rules governing electronic mail. In fact, the question of how private electronic mail transmissions should be has emerged as one of the more complicated legal issues of the electronic age.
People’s opinions about the degree of privacy that electronic mail should have vary depending on whose electronic mail system is being used and who is reading the messages. Does a government office, for example, have the right to destroy electronic messages created in the course of running the government, thereby denying public access to such documents? Some hold that government offices should issue guidelines that allow their staff to delete such electronic records, and defend this practice by claiming that the messages thus deleted already exist in paper versions whose destruction is forbidden. Opponents of such practices argue that the paper versions often omit such information as who received the messages and when they received them, information commonly carried on electronic mail systems. Government officials, opponents maintain, are civil servants; the public should thus have the right to review any documents created during the conducting of government business.
Questions about electronic mail privacy have also arisen in the private sector. Recently, two employees of an automotive company were discovered to have been communicating disparaging information about their supervisor via electronic mail. The supervisor, who had been monitoring the communication, threatened to fire the employees. When the employees filed a grievance complaining that their privacy had been violated, they were let go. Later, their court case for unlawful termination was dismissed; the company’s lawyers successfully argued that because the company owned the computer system, its supervisors had the right to read anything created on it.
In some areas, laws prohibit outside interception of electronic mail by a third party without proper authorization such as a search warrant. However, these laws do not cover “inside” interception such as occurred at the automotive company. In the past, courts have ruled that interoffice communications may be considered private only if employees have a “reasonable expectation” of privacy when they send the messages. The fact is that no absolute guarantee of privacy exists in any computer system. The only solution may be for users to scramble their own messages with encryption codes; unfortunately, such complex codes are likely to undermine the principal virtue of electronic mail: its convenience.
1. Which one of the following statements most accurately summarizes the main point of the passage? (A) Until the legal questions surrounding the privacy of electronic mail in both the public and private sectors have been resolved, office workers will need to scramble their electronic mail messages with encryption codes. (B) The legal questions surrounding the privacy of electronic mail in the work place can best be resolved by treating such communications as if they were as private as telephone conversations or face-to-face meetings. (C) Any attempt to resolve the legal questions surrounding the privacy of electronic mail in the workplace must take into account the essential difference between public-sector and private sector business. (D) At present, in both the public and private sectors, there seem to be no clear general answers to the legal questions surrounding the privacy of electronic mail in the workplace. (E) The legal questions surrounding the privacy of electronic mail in the workplace of electronic mail in the workplace can best be resolved by allowing supervisors in public-sector but not private-sector offices to monitor their employees’ communications.
2. According to the passage, which one of the following best expresses the reason some people use to oppose the deletion of electronic mail records at government offices? (A) Such deletion reveals the extent of government’s unhealthy obsession with secrecy. (B) Such deletion runs counter to the notion of government’s accountability to its constituency. (C) Such deletion clearly violates the legal requirement that government offices keep duplicate copies of all their transactions. (D) Such deletion violates the government’s own guidelines against destruction of electronic records. (E) Such deletion harms relations between government employees and their supervisors.
3. Which one of the following most accurately states the organization of the passage? (A) A problem is introduced, followed by specific examples illustrating the problem: a possible solution is suggested, followed by an acknowledgment of its shortcomings. (B) A problem is introduced, followed by explications of two possible solutions to the problem: the first solution is preferred to the second, and reasons are given for why it is the better alternative. (C) A problem is introduced, followed by analysis of the historical circumstances that helped bring the problem about a possible solution is offered and rejected as being only a partial remedy. (D) A problem is introduced, followed by enumeration of various questions that need to be answered before a solution can be found: one possible solution is proposed and argued for. (E) A problem is introduced, followed by descriptions of two contrasting approaches to thinking about the problem: the second approach is preferred to the first, and reasons are given for why it is more likely to yield a successful solution.
4. Based on the passage, the author’s attitude towards interception of electronic mail can most accurately be described as: (A) outright disapproval of the practice (B) support for employers who engage in it (C) support for employees who lose their jobs because of it (D) intellectual interest in its legal issues (E) cynicism about the motives behind the practice
5. It can be inferred from the passage that the author would most likely hold which one of the following opinions about an encryption system that could encodes and decode electronic mail messages with a single keystroke? (A) It would be an unreasonable burden on a company’s ability to monitor electronic mail created by its employees. (B) It would significantly reduce the difficulty of attempting to safeguard the privacy of electronic mail. (C) It would create substantial legal complications for companies trying to prevent employees from revealing trade secrets to competitors. (D) It would guarantee only a minimal level of employee privacy, and so would not be worth the cost involved in installing such a system. (E) It would require a change in the legal definition of “reasonable expectation of privacy” as it applies to employer-employee relations.
6. Given the information in the passage, which one of the following hypothetical events is LEAST likely to occur? (A) A court rules that a government office’s practice of deleting its electronic mail is not in the public’s best interests. (B) A private-sector employer is found liable for wiretapping an office telephone conversation in which two employees exchanged disparaging information about their supervisor. (C) A court upholds the right of a government office to destroy both paper and electronic versions of its in-house documents. (D) A court upholds a private-sector employer’s right to monitor messages sent between employees over the company’s in-house electronic mail system. (E) A court rules in favor of a private-sector employee whose supervisor stated that in-house electronic mail would not be monitored but later fired the employee for communicating disparaging information via electronic mail.
7. The author’s primary purpose in writing the passage is to (A) demonstrate that the individual right to privacy has been eroded by advances in computer technology (B) compare the legal status of electronic mail in the public and private sectors (C) draw an extended analogy between the privacy of electronic mail and the privacy of telephone conversations or face-to-face meeting (D) illustrate the complexities of the privacy issues surrounding electronic mail in the workplace (E) explain why the courts have not been able to rule definitely on the issue of the privacy of electronic mail