SBA rule aims to protect employee e-mail

Managers at the Small Business Administration now must have several levels of approval before accessing an employee’s e-mail inbox.

On Dec. 21, SBA officials approved the rules regarding when managers can look at SBA employee e-mail messages after a report from the agency’s inspector general showed SBA had no clear policy about accessing e-mail messages without authorization. Now managers must have written authorization from the chief information security officer before looking at e-mail messages, the notice said.

They must give written justification to a senior official explaining why access is necessary. Managers may have legitimate reasons for looking at or monitoring messages. For example, they may need to keep e-mails from an employee who has left SBA or get e-mails when conducting a fact-finding inquiry.

Then the senior official and the CISO must review and approve the request. Finally, the CISO has to get clearance from the general counsel and the chief human capital officer.

Once approved, the CISO will decide who will have access, for how long and how much, the notice said.

The policy expires in December, but SBA said it would be incorporated into permanent policy before then.

The notice comes after a report from SBA’s inspector general, which was released in October. The IG said managers looked at an employee’s e-mail inbox after that employee gave testimony anonymously to the IG and the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurial Committee. It also said there were instances of accessing employees’ e-mail. In response, one manager said no rules were broke because there were no rules covering the situation.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committee’s chairman, in a letter sent to SBA last week, said when the managers looked at the employee's e-mail they may have hindered oversight. He said whistleblowers won’t talk to IGs and congressional committees about misconduct if they have doubts about their confidentiality.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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