TODAY   |  March 12, 2013

Harvard apologizes for reading deans’ emails

While looking for the person who shared confidential information about a cheating scandal, Harvard officials tapped into the email accounts of 16 deans, sparking a debate on how much privacy employees can expect from employers. NBC’s Ron Mott reports.

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>>> are under fire and apologizing this morning after it was revealed they searched staff e e -mails during a cheating investigation. ron mott is on the campus in cambridge, massachusetts. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. when senior officials tried to get to the bottom of who leaked information about how to handle students caught up in the cheating allegations they turned their focus on a number of deans. when none of the deans came forward the university dug deeper. in looking for the person who shared a confidential e-mail about a cheating scandal involving about 70 students, harvard secretly tapped into the e-mail accounts of 16 deans sparking debate about whether the school went too far.

>> i'm pretty shocked they were caught doing this. i feel like e-mail should be something that is private.

>> i think it sets a bad precedent for the university to freely and wantonly access e-mail accounts.

>> reporter: harvard said it only searched subject headings and it conducted the search to protect student privacy they worried had been breached. after identifying the dean involved and taking no further action, harvard is apologizing for not telling all the deans about the e-mail probe until confronted by media reports. officials apologized if any resident deans feel our communication at the conclusion of the investigation was insufficient. privacy experts say employers have the right to look at information but should inform employees when when they have taken a peak and why.

>> every employer monitors e pail. unlike harvard that at least has some sort of limitations on what they monitor, most companies have no limitations at all.

>> reporter: still, not everyone on harvard 's campus is troubled.

>> my feeling is that my e-mail at harvard belongs to the university. but i don't think you should put anything into an e-mail you don't want anybody to see, period.

>> reporter: efforts to get a senior harvard official on camera for interview weren't successful but the university said its chief concern was student privacy and that the bar is high when determining when to access the e-mail accounts of workers.

>> ron mott at harvard this morning. thank you very much.