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Hill Staffers, This Is Why Gmail Exists

The laptop may be yours, but the .gov email address isn't. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Ashley Madison hack is already embarrassing plenty of people , including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Capitol Police and a handful of House offices.  

But the sheer number of ".gov" and ".mil" addresses listed — 15,000 — should raise more than a few eyebrows in Capitol Hill circles. Even as some security experts cast doubt on the authenticity of the leak, it will be a headache for affected offices to sort out. And with good reason.  

Office email, office supplies, computers, Blackberries, iPhones — any of it — never truly belong to staffers, and should not carry an expectation of privacy that is extended to personal correspondence, especially when sending emails on behalf of an elected representative. Members of Congress have campaign committees dedicated to keeping their seats, with often-aggressive opponents digging for embarrassing mistakes that are gold mines come election season.  

Regardless of the content associated with the Ashley Madison website (Hill Navigator is not here to discuss that aspect, though one of my colleagues can provide some lively color ), using a .gov email address when connecting to the site brings your workplace directly into the mix. With the intensely public nature of Capitol Hill (and newspapers such as Roll Call dedicated to covering reaction and fallout), such an embarrassing error can cost a staffer his or her job.  

The onus is twofold. One, staffers should know better than this. Sure, blame the Internet browser for populating the address fields, or the ease of checking office email on a smartphone. But if technology rules are not second nature, it's up to the staffer to be vigilant and only use official office email when absolutely sure the interaction is something with which they want to be affiliated.  

Second, Capitol Hill offices can be clearer in their expectations for staffers. There are technology sections in the office employee handbooks, but for many offices, these handbooks exist only in theory, or are enforced sporadically, or never read at all. An office populated with bright employees with the best of intentions can still have an embarrassing technology mishap. Use the Ashley Madison story as the opportunity to remind staffers of office policies, and point out that lest they were unaware, using your official email to sign up for infidelity services could be a career-ending offense.

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