WSU Tri-Cities Faculty and Staff:
Washington State University has a policy that allows occasional but limited (de minimis) personal use of e-mail and internet if:
- The use is not specifically prohibited (see BPPM 20.37); and
- There is no cost to the state; and
- The use of resources does not interfere with official duties; and
The use does not compromise the security or integrity of University information or software. The WSU policy conforms to state laws and Executive Ethics Board guidance. Please take a moment to review the material below from the Ethics Board. If you have been involved in e-mail and/or internet use that is in violation of University policy or State law you should stop immediately.
Executive Ethics Board Guidance on E-Mail and Internet Use
The Executive Ethics Board has adopted Frequently Asked Question to help state employees comply with the Executive Ethics Act, RCW 42.52. The following excerpts provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about e-mail and internet use. You can find all of the Frequently Asked Questions and answers at ethics.wa.gov
Question 1: Can I send a personal e-mail message without violating the ethics law?
Answer: Yes. The general ethics standard is that any use of a state resource other than for official state business purposes needs to brief in duration and frequency to ensure there is little or no cost to the state and the use does not interfere with the performance of official duties. Extensive personal use of state provided e-mail is not permitted. (See WAC 292-110-010(4))
Question 2: Are my e-mail or voice messages private?
Answer: No, if you use state equipment do not expect a right to privacy for any of your e-mail or voicemail communications. E-mail and voicemail communications may be considered public records and could be subject to disclosure. Aside from disclosure, employees should consider that e-mail communications are subject to alteration and may be forwarded to unintended recipients. Avoid these potential problems by treating e-mail communications as another form of business correspondence. (See WAC 292-110-010(5))
Question 3: Are there any restrictions on e-mail communications?
Answer: Yes. E-mail messages cannot be for any of the following uses: conducting an outside business; political or campaign activities; commercial uses like advertising or selling products; solicitation on behalf of other persons unless approved by the agency head; and illegal or inappropriate activities, such as harassment. In addition, broadly distributing or chain-mailing an e-mail that is not related to official business is prohibited because it disrupts other state employees and obligates them to make a personal use of state resources. (See WAC 292-110-010(6))
Question 4: What are the guidelines on Internet use?
Answer: Just like the guidelines for e-mail discussed above, any personal use of state provided Internet access must be both brief and infrequent. Extensive personal use of state provided Internet access is not permitted. In addition, your agency must have adopted a policy that specifically permits personal use of the Internet. (See WAC 292-110-010(4)) The following examples address uses of the Internet:
Example A: Several times a month an employee quickly uses the Internet to check his or her children’s school website to confirm if the school will end early that day. The transaction takes about five minutes. This is not an ethical violation. The use is brief and infrequent, there is little or no cost to the state, and the use does not interfere with the performance of official duties.
Example B: An employee routinely uses the Internet to manage her personal investment portfolio and communicate information to her broker. This is an ethical violation. Using state resources to monitor private stock investments or make stock trades are private activities that can result in a private financial benefit or gain. Allowing even an occasional or limited use of state facilities to facilitate a private financial gain undermines public confidence in state government. The same also holds true for any personal checking or savings accounts.
Example C: An employee spends thirty to forty minutes looking at various web sites related to a personal interest. This is an ethical violation. The use is not brief and can interfere with the performance of state duties.
Example D: An employee visits several humor and joke sites. While at a site, he/she downloads a joke file and e-mails it to several co-workers. This is an ethical violation. By e-mailing a file to co-workers the employee disrupts other state employees and obligates them to make a personal use of state resources. In addition, downloading files and distributing them to co-workers can introduce a computer virus, which can compromise state databases.