Netiquette Banner Netiquette, by Virginia Shea, page 44

Rule 8: Respect other people's privacy

Of course, you'd never dream of going through your colleagues' desk drawers. So naturally you wouldn't read their email either.

Unfortunately, a lot of people would. This topic actually rates a separate section. For now, here's a cautionary tale. I call it

The case of the snoopy foreign correspondent

In 1993, Michael Hiltzik, a highly regarded foreign correspondent in the Moscow bureau of the Los Angeles Times, was caught reading his coworkers' email. His colleagues became suspicious when system records showed that someone had logged in to check their email at times when they knew they hadn't been near the computer. So they set up a sting operation. They planted false information in messages from another one of the paper's foreign bureaus. Hiltzik read the notes and later asked colleagues about the false information. Bingo! As a disciplinary measure, he was immediately reassigned to another position at the paper's Los Angeles bureau.

The moral: Failing to respect other people's privacy is not just bad Netiquette. It could also cost you your job.

Rule 9: Don't abuse your power

Some people in cyberspace have more power than others. There are wizards in MUDs (multi-user dungeons), experts in every office, and system administrators in every system.

Knowing more than others, or having more power than they do, does not give you the right to take advantage of them. For example, sysadmins should never read private email.

For more on the abuse of power in the milieu of computer networks, see "Egregious Netiquette Violations" on page 83. For more about privacy, see "Email Privacy: a Grand Illusion?" on page 125.


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