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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Who Really Owns Your Email?

Comments (5)

I’ve periodically engaged in the debate about who actually owns your email.  The assertion that email sent from your corporate email address is owned by the company is a difficult one for me to deal with, especially since email has become a ubiquitous means for communication.  As a result I find the entire thing tiresome – but important. 

I’m a big believer in private property rights.  I also know the risk of the government granting a property right inappropriately (for example, the evils of software patents.)  Today, the New York Times reported that The National Labor Relations Board Restricts Union Use of E-Mail.

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers have the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages, a decision that could hamper communications between labor unions and their membership.

In a 3-to-2 ruling released on Friday, the board held that it was legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail so long as employers had a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for outside organizations.

The ruling is a significant setback to the nation’s labor unions, which argued that e-mail systems have become a modern-day gathering place where employees should be able to communicate freely with co-workers to discuss work-related matters of mutual concern.

I’m not a fan of unions, but this is stupid.  Solution #1: Union members all get a Google Apps account (member@unionname.com) and use that for union communications.  Since it’s a union email account, shouldn’t that be ok even thought it’s being sent via a web browser on a work computer?  I don’t know union rules well enough, but do they prohibit interaction with other union members on work facilities during work hours?  If not, then this should work.

Stupid Company Trick #1: If the company believes it owns the email, doesn’t it actually want the email on the company’s e-mail system?  If the company has made every employee sign a little thing saying "we own your email", this would give the company the right to read all the union-related email which seems to give the company a big advantage here!

Stupid Government Trick #1: Why is our government wasting tax payer dollars on this? (Hint – this is a rhetorical question.)

  • PRoales

    It gets even worse if you are a elected official. I was just informed by council, that if I send email using my personal email address acting in my roll as a elected official – that email can be subject to a public information request. Crazy, but thats apparently the way it works in Indiana for good or bad.

    • http://www.intela.com Jim – Intela

      I remember that because of that upon election President Bush closed his email accounts that he used to communicate with his daughters.

  • Saul Lieberman

    Based on your quote from the NYTimes, the ruling prohibits use of the company’s e-mail system. It does not deal with “who actually owns your email”.
    The issue would appear to be whether the public policy protecting the right to unionize shoud override an employer's right to restrict use of its email system.

  • Steve Bergstein

    Regarding Solution #1: I was employed by a large bank, where they didn't want using non-bank email (or IM ) because of a regulatory requirement that all brokers' communications with clients via email, etc. be logged or recorded (it was applied to all employees regardless of whether we were subject to the regulations – I was not). They had in place some system that blocked our access to the common IM systems as well as one that prevented us from accessing the gmail, hotmail, AOL mail, etc. web sites. I was never particularly inclined to circumvent the restrictions, but I suspect it would have taken some effort and that if it had become widespread and systematic, someone would have closed whatever holes I was able to find.

    Solution 1 won't be a solution in any company significantly committed to preventing use of company resources to prevent it.

    Stupid company trick #1, on the other hand, makes complete sense. Why would a company want to force union communication into a channel that it can't monitor?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jim122 jim122

    I remember that because of that upon election President Bush closed his email accounts that he used to communicate with his daughters.

  • PRoales

    It gets even worse if you are a elected official. I was just informed by council, that if I send email using my personal email address acting in my roll as a elected official – that email can be subject to a public information request. Crazy, but thats apparently the way it works in Indiana for good or bad.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 steve_bergs2127

    Regarding Solution #1: I was employed by a large bank, where they didn't want using non-bank email (or IM ) because of a regulatory requirement that all brokers' communications with clients via email, etc. be logged or recorded (it was applied to all employees regardless of whether we were subject to the regulations – I was not). They had in place some system that blocked our access to the common IM systems as well as one that prevented us from accessing the gmail, hotmail, AOL mail, etc. web sites. I was never particularly inclined to circumvent the restrictions, but I suspect it would have taken some effort and that if it had become widespread and systematic, someone would have closed whatever holes I was able to find.

    Solution 1 won't be a solution in any company significantly committed to preventing use of company resources to prevent it.

    Stupid company trick #1, on the other hand, makes complete sense. Why would a company want to force union communication into a channel that it can't monitor?

  • Saul Lieberman

    Based on your quote from the NYTimes, the ruling prohibits use of the company’s e-mail system. It does not deal with "who actually owns your email".
    The issue would appear to be whether the public policy protecting the right to unionize shoud override an employer's right to restrict use of its email system.

  • http://www.financial.com Cityfamily

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  • http://www.financial.com Cityfamily

    Law Complete,fashion most weight rock tell quarter senior close board arrange mean seriously return unfortunately guide first derive general nevertheless text according definition my reality happy father concerned onto fairly about she none difficulty danger attach door previous sum table though famous condition feel immediately existence gas see bring through southern impossible ancient national factory judge prove inform establish planning increasingly cheap apply round united little ought standard agency motor sorry neck situation gate seriously sort which advance the contract however neighbour panel property shout yet disease build

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