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How the use of personal email at work can cost you your job

UREPORT
By Victor Mochere | August 8th 2015

I miss the golden days of snail mail. You took the trouble to weigh every word you wrote, slipped the missive into an envelope, bought a stamp and then dispatched it through the post office hoping for a reply from your lover.

Then you waited. And waited. Sometimes she never wrote back and you were left to wonder whether she didn’t like you enough, or if she ever got the letter.

Enough about my high school years, you get the point. It’s a brave new world, and Scott Gration lost his job as US ambassador to Kenya because he couldn’t be bothered.

Let me explain: E-mail came along and all the thoughtfulness went through the window. You hastily bang out an electronic message and send it without even a casual second glance these days.

At some point, organisations decided to have some control over any electronic communication that was sent in their name, so they came up with work e-mail. My email for instance is: [email protected]com.   It is professional, much like having a business card with your company’s logo on it.

Apparently, former US Secretary of State and potential next leader of the free world Hilary Clinton decreed that all employees should use their official gov e-mail addresses. Only she didn’t really use her own official address, and even set up servers at her New York home “precisely to avoid the State Department system under which government electronic communications were maintained and disclosed pursuant to federal law,” according to the National Review.

The commentariat and the talking class in Washington, DC, and across those United States has gone into overdrive, speculating whether this means she is unfit for the presidency.

So how does this affect Scott Gration and his former job as Uncle Sam’s guy in Nairobi?

Glad you asked. In June 2011, multiple reports say Ms Clinton sent an unclassified cable to all diplomatic and consular posts asking them to “avoid conducting official Department from your personal e-mail accounts.”

A year later, Gration was forced to resign for continuing to use his Gmail account. In all fairness, a review found his leadership “divisive and ineffective”, so it wasn’t just about the e-mail.

But he’s now calling out his former boss, telling CNN: “I was very surprised to learn of the double standard.”

The retired US Air Force Major General — who still lives in Kenya with his wife — told the network his experience was “somewhat different than Secretary Clinton’s use of her commercial account, yet I was ‘fired’ for the use of Gmail in the US Embassy....”

In Kenya, most government officials routinely use Gmail and Yahoo! accounts, either oblivious to, or unfazed by, the security considerations.

Both the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit and the Deputy President’s Press Service send official news releases to the media using Gmail addresses.

Next time a senator or member of the national assembly hands you his or her business card, look at the e-mail address listed. In my unscientific guesstimate, it will be a personal e-mail address seven out of 10 times.

A senior government source told me last week that a decision couldn’t be made on a delayed project because the president was out of the country.

CAUTIONARY TALE

A draft had been written but it couldn’t be e-mailed to him or his handlers while he was away for fear of it getting intercepted. So they were waiting for him to return to the country so a physical copy could be presented to him for approval.

State House clearly does not have a virtual private network or an encrypted communication gateway to transmit sensitive information.

In many other organisations, private e-mails are still widely used to conduct official business, compromising company information and hiding the communication from official channels.

Dirty procurement officers (some may say that’s repetitive) remain in business precisely because they can fix their kickback deals under the table. Beyond that, a lot of institutional memory is lost when an employee leaves with his or her entire record of official correspondence.

Then there are those strange workers who don’t even bother to check their work e-mails. “Did you see the company-wide announcement sent out last week?,” you ask them and they’re completely blank.

“No wonder you’re still here. I fired you last week,” a good boss should be required to respond.

It is fascinating that Ms Clinton’s use of personal e-mail is jeopardising her presidential bid even before it officially starts, just as it ended Gration’s diplomatic career. May it serve as a cautionary tale.

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