By Bob Norman Thu., Oct. 15 2009 @ 8:25AMThe Broward Teachers Union has sent a cease and desist letter to Superintendent James Notter and School Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen demanding that they stop intercepting emails from teachers and other school employees to School Board members.
From a news release:
BTU President Pat Santeramo said union leaders discovered by chance district officials intercepted and blocked the employee's e-mails to school board members when School Board Member Stephanie Kraft "unwittingly" alerted them. Union leaders had sent an e-mail message to the labor organization's 14,000 members on March 25, 2009 thanking them for their support during last year's long contract negotiations with the district and, over the course of the 2008-2009 school year, for having sent hundreds of thousands of e-mails to school board members.
Ironically, Kraft did receive a copy of the union's e-mail message to its members and fired back a response to BTU President Pat Santeramo just hours later at 10:27 a.m. on the same day, writing, "PS, board members did not receive any emails, let alone hundreds of thousands." It appeared she and the other school board members were unaware their constituents' e-mail messages were being intercepted.
Her e-mail launched a union investigation that amounted to reviewing thousands of e-mail messages, which are all public documents, sent and received by school board members and district officials between March 23 to April 17, 2009. It was determined district officials intercepted the employees' e-mail messages to school board members on March 22 and 23, April 12 and August 26. Union leaders spent several months researching and consulting with national legal experts with the American Federation of Teachers in Washington D.C. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco and learned the district officials were likely violating the employees' constitutional rights.
... The union's lawyers, nationally recognized labor attorney Mark Richard in Miami and General Counsel David Strom of the American Federation of Teachers in Washington D.C., found district officials were likely in violation of state and federal wiretapping statutes. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 amended the Federal Wiretapping Act. It expanded the existing provisions regarding the interception of wireless communication to specifically cover the interception of email communications.
OK, it's definitely suspect for the district to block emails from employees to School Board members, and this deserves a full independent investigation by the School Board to determine who blocked the emails, how and why it was done, and whether laws were violated in so doing.
1. This was discussed earlier. No laws were broken
The attorneys need to get with someone who understands the laws concerning email, which will surprise many people. In a nutshell email has no protections and nothing says the the email must go through.
3. The freedom of speech meme is one of several discredited spammer talking points
the lawyers are using. Much of this was settled in the spam wars. - Nothing says the email must get through - Mail servers are under no requirement to pass or accept traffic from any other server - Admins are free to block whatever and whomever they please on their server without penalty There is no legitimate legal argument here. Moral/ethical is another point.
A lot of us worked for years at some legal peril to establish those precedents so that you email is usable today. Are you arguing for the spammers?
4. Are you saying that there is no way to distinguish online petitions from spam?
Edited on Mon Oct-19-09 01:06 PM by clear eye
I find that hard to believe. My members of Congress seem to have no trouble getting and responding to the online petitions/letters I send them, and I have to assume they block general spam or their accounts would be unusable.
It's highly likely that the emails to the Board members were set up like online petitions, as coming from senders' individual addresses. The only thing to flag them would be the use of the same subject lines, or merely being sent on a day when the administration's IT person was alerted that there was to be an email campaign. Intentionally blocking these employees messages, simply because they said the same thing as other employees, strikes me as a gross violation of freedom of speech.
Lawyers should be able to use this very logical argument. If they're not doing so, they don't have the necessary skill and creativity to effectively defend civil liberties.
Spamming may be like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre when there is none, serving no useful purpose and intentionally disruptive, but a group of employees petitioning their bosses for redress of grievances can clearly be defined as a separate civil liberties issue.
Are you connected w/ the administration's legal team? Your sympathies seem misplaced for this board.
7. Your technical ignorance is overwhelming in argument you may have
The legal sound bites will get no traction. Its well settled law at this point.
From a technical side, most online petitions would be a classic template match and get deleted by most server side anti spam software. Deleting emails for any reason is not a violation of free speech, unless of of course you want to ally yourself with Viagra and 419 spammers.
Spamming, or more properly Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) is no where near the same as crying "Fire" in a crowded theater. Admins are allowed to administer their servers as they see fit, without legal penalties. Public blocklists are more dicey, but Spamhaus and others are doing well. No law says says the email must go through, and discarding an email for any reason is not a violation of free speech unless you are a spammer or spam supporter.
I am in no way connected to the situation, I just happen to have a great deal of experience in running email servers and the laws pertaining to them. While I support the goals of what is intended, I am criticizing a specious legal approach. If this is too nuanced for you, I have to wonder if you are you mature enough to be on this board.
8. What kind of twisted logic equates Viagra ads w/ petitioning one's boss
for a redress of employment grievances? You have not addressed how it is that members of Congress routinely receive mass emails from their constituents designated as coming from individual addresses, despite being able to block run-of-the-mill spam. I don't believe you know as much as you claim, because there is quite apparently entirely different software used when individuals fill in their separate email addresses on an online issue mailing.
It defies common sense to think that a judge would say that because a system administrator has a right to block Viagra ads, they have a right to block emails from employees to their bosses. And to assume that such a decision would not be a gross miscontruing of the protection of civil liberties in the U.S.. Since the Congressional system distinguishes between the two types, it is clear it can be done.
That was a main point in the OP--that the withheld email was a total surprise to the intended recipients. The question about consent does involve content, if you think about it. Does consent to spam blocking include permission to block communications from employees. IS THAT CONTENT "SPAM"?? I guess another question would be whether the authority of the Superintendent and the School Board Chair includes supervising which business mail Board members can receive. The story specifically says the emails were "intercepted" by those individuals, not randomly blocked by an existent setup made earlier by the system admin. I'm pretty sure that the Board Chair, whose duties are normally minimally larger than the other Board members has no authority over their online communications. The Super has some say over what school records the Board can access, but it's still questionable if he can censor their business email.
I think there's a lot more legitamacy to this than you assume. I believe we'll have to agree to differ and see what actually transpires.
6. I am not addressing the specifics of the situation, only the legal aspects of email
I have been a mail systems administrator for many years. I helped develop both mail servers and antispam tools via source forge and other FSF/creative commons environments. I submit that from the technology viewpoint I am well qualified.
Do you have any technical credentials in this area other than be a web browser user?
9. I don't and never claimed I did. But I go by what I observe
Edited on Mon Oct-19-09 05:04 PM by clear eye
to happen when I participate in emailing campaigns.
By not disagreeing that the block may have been done by shutting down Board members incoming email on certain days, rather than by use of an anti-spam filter, and by saying you can't comment on the technical specifics, you are admitting that what happened may be a case of the intended recipients selectively being denied access to email connected with the legitimate exercise of the duties of their jobs. Their jobs are to participate in setting conditions and compensation for the school district's employees.
And you insist on claiming that without doubt that legally equates to blocking spam.
Isn't the issue whether the district superintendent and/or chair of the Board (I no longer remember who ordered the email blocked) has the right to order job-related email to be witheld from Board members w/o their knowledge, not whether the system administrator is somehow liable for implementing the block? We seem to have both freedom of speech and freedom of association violations here. The situation would be very different if the Board members were aware of the campaign and asked for the block themselves, IMO.
Fortunately you are not the union's civil liberties lawyer or the judge who may hear the case.
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