I've just spotted a story in the local Cumbrian press about Allerdale Borough Council which caught my eye. The headline is Email snooping inquiry continues and refers to a senior councillor who apparently boasted that he could produce files of emails written by fellow councillors to use against them.
Obviously, as a techie this sort of thing interests me. These days everyone is paranoid about emails and snooping. The thing is it all really depends on the method for sending and receiving email that defines the scope of that snooping. For example, in the case of most Council offices they will likely use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes server. If you send and receive all your mail through that then the administrator can - technically - read all your emails.
The question in those cases comes down to ethical practice though. A sysadmin in charge of a system that has hundreds of users, frankly, has better thiongs to do with his time than read your email. The Bastard Operator from Hell is a parody of the power we have, not a reality of the way we pratice and execute that power.
Something that everyone should remember when it comes to email is that if you don't encrypt it, it's visible to the world (technically) the minute it goes out on the Internet on it's way to the recipient. It could, theoretically, be intercepted. Without encryption an email is not really much different to a postcard. The moral of the tail? The truly paranoid encrypt their mail.