Could Hillary Clinton’s email scandal happen to you?

Business, Money, News, Politics

On September 9, Hillary Clinton admitted she made a mistake and apologized for the email scandal that has dogged her campaign for most of 2015, after it was discovered she paid a government employee to set up a private server for her and President Clinton in their New York home.

The story will no doubt have further twists and turns (just this week, the FBI refused to comply with a US District Court judge’s request for information related to the case, setting off another round of angry accusations). But as we collectively watch Clinton twist herself in knots trying to navigate the scandal, perhaps we can treat her plight as a cautionary tale for ourselves. After all, many people are using their personal devices to access work email and vice versa. If your company gets involved in litigation, would it put you at risk for having your private information subject to discovery?

What are the rules for using your own smartphone or computer at work?

Advances in technology and the demands of a global, 24-7 work environment have resulted in an explosion of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in the workplace. These policies attempt to codify the Wild West of information exchange by placing parameters around when and how employees can use their own devices, while addressing key considerations like technical specifications, security, and privacy.

In 2012, the federal government created a toolkit to help businesses (as well as their own agencies) design and implement a BYOD policy, rolling out the guidelines through the White House’s Digital Government portal. One big ticket recommendation is virtualization: having employees access information through a virtual system, without ever downloading the information to the employee’s personal device. Another approach is to use a so-called “walled garden,” in which the employer’s IT department can separately manage company data for personal devices.

Whatever technical approach is used, security and privacy remain paramount. Best practices call for employees to sign policies that require, among other things, setting secure passwords to lock devices, maintaining and updating the device operating system, and prohibiting the use of the device by anyone other than the employee.

If you don’t know if your employer has a BYOD policy, you should ask. If there is a policy in place, make sure you understand what it means and how you can comply with it.

What happens to my device if the company is involved in litigation?

The Federal Rules of Evidence—the playbook for litigation making its way through the court system—require parties to preserve Electronically Stored Information (ESI) that could serve as evidence in the trial (updated rules are set to take effect on December 1, 2015).

Those rules specify that, when there is going to be a lawsuit, a ‘litigation hold’ needs to be issued that will suspend the potential destruction of information; in other words, if you have company information downloaded on a personal device, you have to take affirmative steps to make sure that information is saved.

That might simply mean that the IT department has to take a snapshot of the information on your device. But it could mean you have to turn over the device itself. And if there is no walled garden set-up on your device and your personal and work data is commingled, things could get pretty sticky.

Worst-case scenario might be that all of the data on your device is collected and sifted through by some random associate working for your company’s law firm. Your vacation photos could end up in the same stack as the pictures you took during a company strategy offsite.

Know your data

So what’s a person to do if the boss expects you to check email from home, but you don’t want the data from your weight-loss app to end up as part of a lawsuit?

The best thing you can do is to understand what is happening with the data on your phone. Talk to your manager and your IT folks. Does your employer use a virtualization environment? Can you build a wall between your stuff and theirs? Take the initiative to protect your personal data now.

The long-term political effect on Hillary Clinton from her email issues is still unknown, but a recent Washington-Post ABC News poll says that 55 percent of voters disapprove of how she has handled it. Hillary said early on that she set up the server because of the convenience of traveling with only one device. Clearly, that convenience has already exacted a cost. Don’t let the convenience of using your personal smartphone or tablet for business impose a similar cost on you.

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