Appointment Letter from President Obama Gave Ambassador the Right to Read Any Email Messages from Embassy? Noooooooooo!

This is part one in the series that could keep us busy for awhile.

The OIG team learned during the inspection that the Ambassador had brought to the staff’s attention that her appointment letter from the President gave her the right to read any email messages that originated at Embassy Luxembourg. In the psychological atmosphere of the embassy, some interpreted this as a direct warning that she would have access to messages to OIG or other Department offices.

At the exit briefing, the OIG team confirmed to the Ambassador and the country team that Department employees can have no expectation of privacy in their electronic communications on U.S. Government equipment. This is reconfirmed each time an employee logs in on U.S. Government computers, and the policy is expressly spelled out in 5 FAM 723. However, the FAM is equally clear that neither Department nor embassy management has limitless access to employees’ email accounts just by virtue of their positions. Department regulation 5 FAM 724 c. states that auditing of an employee’s network activity or workstation use, which includes but is not limited to electronic communication, Internet access, local disk files, and server files, may be performed only when there is suspicion that improper use of U.S. Government equipment has occurred. Even then, a supervisor must obtain the concurrence of a reviewing official; at an embassy, that official is the DCM. A supervisor must also explain why review of a subordinate’s emails is needed, and the DCM must approve, in writing, an audit of the employee’s email accounts. The results of that review must be returned to the DCM for further action, if needed. Since not all embassy staff was present at the exit briefing, there is a need to clarify this policy within the mission.

Recommendation 6: Embassy Luxembourg should issue a formal policy that explains Department of State rules and regulations concerning access to employee electronic records and the circumstances under which embassy management may access these records. (Action: Embassy Luxembourg)

Active links added and items underlined for emphasis.

Okay, we have to say that this is not the worst part in the list of management/leadership shortcomings enumerated by the State Department’s Inspector General report, but it strike us as extremely poor taste – bringing up the President’s name, like propping up the president’s life-size image behind when you make a speech.

There’s a whole lot of material in the IG report that we could just blog about this until the next presidential election or when US Embassy Luxembourg gets another deep pocket political appointee as chief of mission! Whichever comes first. Okay, we’ll wait…..

Phuey! As Rick Stout’s Nero Wolfe would say, phuey!   

More later ….