Never, NEVER, NEVER tell someone
May 3, 2000 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Never, NEVER, NEVER tell someone "Sure, you can use my computer while I'm on vacation!"
posted by Steven Den Beste (22 comments total)
One of the roommates (who, out of concern for privacy, asked that his name not be used)

Shame they didn't worry too much about privacy before they went rifling through someone else's mail.
Couldn't the roommates be prosecuted under some sort of privacy law? I don't know US law but it's a criminal offence in the UK to read (snail) mail not addressed to you, does anyone know if the same applies to emails?
posted by Markb at 9:08 AM on May 3, 2000

Tampering with snail mail is a Federal offense in the US, but both my email at work and on-line seems to be fair game for others to read. All incoming and outgoing emails at work are saved for possible use later (me trying to sue them for something), and hotmail knows something, because after writing emails in languages other than English, I now get Italian and French banner ads.

The problem is at work people tend to use email as they would a phone conversation, without thinking about how it can be forwarded and copied.
posted by birgitte at 9:30 AM on May 3, 2000

It may be 16 years late, but the days where you can be persecuted for thoughtcrime appear to be upon us. That the school, the police, and the doctors can get away with this kind of behavior is scary. That this story will probably fade away without a trace is even scarier.

Time to batten down the hatches and get my hands on some heavy encryption.

Also, what the hell was the paramedic doing with a copy of the e-mail message?

posted by Calebos at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2000

"NYU officials would not comment on the story, citing federal privacy laws. "

Nice attitude. They can hide behind the law to protect their own ass, yet had no problems with how the information was obtained.
posted by schlyer at 10:53 AM on May 3, 2000

You know what? The Globe is (generally) a good paper, but I honestly don't believe this story. I've heard of people getting expelled from schools for similar things which seems plausible, but I can't imagine the NYPD & Bellevue acting on this. I'd like to see it from another source (doesn't show up in the NY Times or Post, though the one about the kid in Denton Texas showed up in many papers).
posted by sylloge at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2000

I see where you all are coming from, but let's look at it from the perspective of his roommates. They didn't know him, he was acting slightly anti-socially, and claimed to be depressed.....

Imagine if you were those roomates - how would you feel if you didn't check out his mail, and then he went out on a rampage?

It's not like they violated his privacy for the sake of persecuting him.

As I say, I see your points, but I can see theirs also.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2000

If that was a good rationale for searching through private property then we'd be morally obliged to search through others' private property all the time, just in case. Modus tollens, you need something more than suspicion.
posted by sylloge at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2000

If the roomates had beef with the kid, why not just talk to him or go to their Resident Assistant? Rifling through email happened to turn up what they wanted - proof that this guy was wacked. If he had deleted those emails, how much do you want to bet they would then go through his drawers...his closet...

by the way...long time reader, first time writer.
posted by inviolable at 2:29 PM on May 3, 2000

sorry, "Rifling through email happened to turn up what they wanted - proof that MAYBE this guy was wacked."

He obviously wasn't. sorry about that lame sentence.
posted by inviolable at 2:30 PM on May 3, 2000

the man who lives down the hall from me didn't return my greeting when we were both dumping our garbage last night.

so i broke into his apartment and went through his stuff.

you know, just to make sure he wasn't planning to kill anybody.
posted by Zeldman at 2:34 PM on May 3, 2000

THe North Carolina governor encouraging students to turn in their friends that they think are whack jobs seems to me a bit communist.

"Defend mother Russia. Turn in anyone speaking out against the motherland"

small island... pacific ocean... nuclear waste... i'm all about that right now.
posted by eljuanbobo at 4:25 PM on May 3, 2000

For me the scary part is that the institutions that screwed up aren't climbing all over themselves to make sure it doesn't happen again. They still think it's justified.

So their solution to the 1 in 10 million chance that this guy would shoot somebody is to lock him in a mental hospital with no due process? Great..... Just great. How do we protect ourselves again these Nazis?
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:39 PM on May 3, 2000

No one answered the question I put forward -

"Imagine if you were those roomates - how would you feel if you didn't check out his mail, and then he went out on a rampage?"

These kids thought they had a reason that warranted their looking in his mail.

It's better to be safe than sorry, IMHO.

It's not as though an employer is looking through your mail, to see what you're writing - that is what we should be worrying about, IMHO.

What I found more disturbing (as mentioned above) was the way he was bundled off like that...

posted by tomcosgrave at 6:06 AM on May 4, 2000

Yes, tom, several people responded to your question:

They made it clear that what you think is reasonable, they think is Communist, police state thought control. And I agree with them. I just linked a story from the NY Times magazine on this very point: you can't evaluate someone from one or two data points.
posted by baylink at 9:33 AM on May 4, 2000

> It's better to be safe than sorry, IMHO.

Friends don't have friends thrown into mental institutions.

"Gee, uh.... When we read email you'd sent to someone else and then made it public we were just concerned that you might be a total wacko. We just wanted to make sure you didn't try to killl us or anything. No hard feelings huh?"

So the whole "thought police" thing is okay as long as it's your buddies? It's not "safe". It's creepy. Nice to see our schools are encouraging this type of thing. IMHO the kids that turned him in are MUCH more dangerous than he is.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2000

/me crosses tom off the list of potential roommates for Blog Camp.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2000

haha Joe.

And they didn't have the emergency services bundle him away, I bet - that was, I'd imagine, out of their control.

y6 - If I thought (and this is really going to get me in hot water!) one of my friends was acting strangely, then yes, I would feel justified in seeing if he was okay. If I thought it was needed I'd look at his e-mail. Like I said, I'd rather make sure they were sane.

I'm sorry, but it's not Communist, nor is it Police State stuff - that's when your employer or government starts reading your mail (which I totally disapprove with).

I know I'm freaking out the lot of you here. Sorry 'bout that. And no one answered my questionm unless I'm utterly blind -

"how would you feel if you didn't check out his mail, and then he went out on a rampage?"

I'm sure I'm gonna be real popular now.....but this is how I feel.
posted by tomcosgrave at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2000

>how would you feel if you didn't
>check out his mail, and then he went
>out on a rampage?

I'd feel bad? Of course the probability of a rampage is very highly overestimated. There have been, what, four or five in the whole country in the last couple years? -- very few, anyhow, compared to the number of people who enjoy this sort of ... um ... humor.
posted by EngineBeak at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2000

True, but it might still happen.
posted by tomcosgrave at 4:40 PM on May 4, 2000

Upon reading the article, my reaction was similar to Tom's.

The initial invasion of privacy was undoubtedly wrong - as sylloge points out, more than mere suspicion is required before such action is warranted ("Modus Tollens" brings back fond memories of Freshman philosophy . . .).

However, given their discovery (illgotten as it was) inaction would have no doubt constituted a greater evil.

If such a sentiment puts me on par with a police state, as some seem to suggest, so be it.
posted by aladfar at 7:28 PM on May 4, 2000

I don't think it's true either. Why would a paramedic show him coppies of the emails, while strapped to the gurney.

Why whould the paramedic have "evidence". Why would anyone be discussing "his case with him" while he's being transported to a "facility"

I think it's bunK.
posted by humboldt at 1:35 PM on May 5, 2000

I feel really bad for that guy and I think they didn't have a right to go thru his eMail because they weren't even friends of his. That's awful.

posted by FAB4GIRL at 4:34 PM on May 5, 2000

« Older And from the "No Shit, Sherlock!" file   |   What a perfect followup... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments