State employees are being advised that effective immediately, they are prohibited from accessing their office webmail or other data on the state’s computer network from any “personal device,” including a personal computer, cell phone, or tablet. Employees will also be prohibited from doing any of their state business using a personal device, or storing any state data on a personal storage device, such as a thumb drive or portable hard drive.
The policy was described in a notice sent to employees in at least one state department this week, according to a copy made available to this site.
It isn’t clear how many state employees will be impacted, or whether the policies will apply to the University of Hawaii, which has outsourced its email to Google Mail and manages its own internal computer network. However, the new rules will obviously create a host of issues and problems for state workers in many types of jobs.
There is no indication whether there were any consultations with public employee unions that are normally very sensitive to administrative edicts that impact working conditions of their members.
Word about the dramatic new restrictions is trickling down from the office of State Chief Information Officer Sonny Bhagowalia, and were apparently approved earlier this month following several years of discussion by the Information Privacy and Security Council, which he chairs. However, there is no reference to the new policy or its justification on the website of the Office of Information and Management Technology, and recent agendas of the Information Privacy and Security Council contain no indication that such a dramatic policy shift was being considered.
Bhagowalia’s office is reportedly still trying to come up with ways to allow employees to get work done while away from their offices. In the meantime, declaring the benefits of digital mobility off-limits to state employees can be expected to dramatically impact many jobs.
The policy change appears to be driven by two concerns. First, apparently any outside access to the state data network is thought to increase the risk of outside “computer attacks.” A second significant factor is fear of “electronic discovery,” or ediscovery, where internal documents are required to be disclosed to parties involved in civil lawsuits with the state. If emails are read or downloaded onto personal phones or computers, those devices can be searched for documents relevant to the litigation, making disclosure more likely, an idea that apparently strikes fear in the hearts of state administrators and lawyers.
One recent embarrassing example occurred in 2012, when emails and other correspondence were made public which suggested the office of the late Sen. Dan Inouye put political pressure on a state hearing officer presiding over a contested case involving the University of Hawaii’s push for a new solar telescope on Haleakala.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about this as word of the new policy spreads.