In one of the rare instances of merit leading to power in contemporary South Dakota politics, Lee Schoenbeck gets to be Senate King because he is generally smarter than the average legislator. But at yesterday’s meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Board, Senator Schoenbeck said something uncharacteristically dumb about the E-Board’s new ban on legislators’ using their state electronic devices for personal business:
Senators Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, and Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, spoke against the change. Schoenbeck, a lawyer who chairs the board this year, has been using his personal device for legislative matters. “It would be a sea change for legislators,” Schoenbeck said.
…Schoenbeck predicted that about 100 legislators would violate the ban and about five would follow it. “Just so you know, this is a chaos deal,” Schoenbeck said. He suggested an email be sent to notify legislators about the change [Bob Mercer, “Outside Business Banned on SD Legislators’ Accounts,” KELO-TV, 2022.11.15].
First—wait a minute: the E-Board is just enacting this ban now? Thirty years into the Internet Age, and the Legislature doesn’t have a basic IT policy telling users not to send love letters and bids for their private businesses from their public, taxpayer-funded, official Legislative electronic information devices?
Second—”a sea change”?! Really? You mean nearly every legislator has mistakenly assumed for years that it’s perfectly fine to do private business on public equipment? No wonder we’ve heard no outrage from the Schoenbeck caucus about the Governor’s taking teenage boys joyriding on the state plane.
Third—”a chaos deal”? For the past thirty years, a variety of employers, public and private, have given me access to a variety of electronic information retrieval devices. At every job, I’ve taken it for granted that my employer expects me to use the employer’s computers, network, and other tools strictly for the employer’s business. I’ve assumed that every employer expects me to do work on work machines and save my personal business for my personal devices on my own time. I haven’t blogged or tweeted on school computers (except when composing blog posts or tweets for my employers). I haven’t taken personal calls on my work phone (heck, I even avoid taking personal calls on my personal phone when I’m on the clock for my employer). I sure as heck haven’t touched my Paypal or online banking on any device owned by my bosses. Keeping private, personal business off my employers’ devices doesn’t cause me any “chaos”—it actually reduces the chaos (distraction, inefficiency, violations of trust and privacy…) that can ensue when personal life and work life don’t remain properly compartmentalized.
I’m surprised I have to say this to Lee, who is a lawyer and who thus should keenly understand the problems that can arise if workers are doing personal, private business on devices owned by someone else or by the public. (And already I’m wondering if I could file an open records request for every personal message stored on a Legislative computer, tablet, or phone, since all of the data stored on legislators state devices belongs to the state, just like the devices, and their personal, non-governmental communications would not be covered by any of the exemptions to the open records law.)
But Lee—Lee! Your colleagues need to understand that their state computers are not their computers. Legislators, keep your personal business on your personal computer! Doing so won’t cause chaos… or at least it shouldn’t among responsible employees who respect the resources provided for them to do their employers’ business, which in your case is the people’s business.