DOE: No privacy on agency computers

The Energy Department finalized a rule that essentially requires all employees and contractors to give up any expectations of privacy when using agency computers.

DOE's rule, which will become effective Aug. 18, also specifies that members of the public who interact with DOE computers via e-mail likewise have no promise of privacy.

The rule is an effort to create a standard agencywide policy for access to agency computers. It follows a proposed rule that the department published March 17, 2005, and incorporates comments the agency received.

A main feature of the rule is that DOE employees and contractors must acknowledge in writing that authorized investigative agencies can have access to computers they used during the time of their employment and for as many as three years after they leave. That provision previously was explained only for employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration, an organization within DOE. Because of NNSA's recommendation, department officials determined it should apply agencywide, according to the rule published July 18 in the Federal Register.

The rule, which follows a proposed rule the department published March 17, 2005, also specifies that:

  • Individuals seeking access to information on DOE computers must acknowledge in writing that there is no expectation of privacy.
  • Contractors are responsible for making sure that each employee or subcontractor employee has provided the proper written acknowledgements. A DOE contracting officer can inspect and copy contractors' files of such acknowledgements at any time.

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