Though village policy clearly states that employees who communicate through municipal e-mail accounts have no expectation of privacy, there is no record that a village official suing for alleged privacy violations ever received the policy.
According to Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz, Commissioner Terry Steinbach does not have a signed copy of the village’s policy on computer use in her personnel file. In August, Steinbach filed suit in federal court alleging personal communications in her village account were improperly accessed. She has since amended her original claim to include the village’s IT specialist.
“I can’t confirm that any of the newly elected officials got it,” Moritz said.
The language of the policy deals specifically with municipal employees, but Moritz said it also applies to elected officials. A February 2003 memo suggests the policy was distributed to Steinbach and other commissioners, Moritz said. However, that memo predates the municipal elections in April.
The only elected official who signed the policy is Mayor Anthony Calderone, Moritz said. Village records indicate he did so in February of 2003.
“With respect to e-mail and instant messaging confidentiality, the village reserves the right to monitor all messages at any time, with or without notice to employees,” according to the policy. “The use of a system log-on or password should not convey an expectation of privacy to the employee.”
On Nov. 5 Steinbach amended her August filing in U.S. District Court that three nameless defendants conspired to hack into her village e-mail account, forwarding private information to the mayor. Steinbach is now naming IT specialist Craig Lundt, the village of Forest Park, and two John Doe defendants believed to be village employees or elected officials.
Upon accessing her village e-mail account directly through the server for the first time in July, Steinbach said she discovered several e-mails had already been sent from the account. Those “private e-mails” were forwarded to Calderone, according to Steinbach, between March and June of 2006.
This discovery is the basis for her suit and her claims to an unspecified amount in damages. Court records show that Steinbach is demanding a jury trial.
In all, Steinbach is alleging eight counts of misconduct, including violations of the federal wiretap act, computer fraud, eavesdropping and the public disclosure of private facts. In her eighth and final charge, Steinbach alleges that Lundt improperly accessed her e-mails at the village’s behest.
“Upon information and belief, defendant Lundt acted to serve the interests of his employer, the village of Forest Park, at the direction of defendants John Doe 2 and John Doe 3,” Steinbach stated in her court filing.
The court previously granted a motion allowing Steinbach to review computer records in an effort to identify who may have committed the alleged act.
The Nov. 5 filing makes no mention of specific evidence that may have been discovered in that search.
“Upon information and belief, Craig Lundt is the only individual apart from Commissioner Steinbach who knows the password to Commissioner Steinbach’s Forest Park e-mail account,” according to the court record.
Steinbach declined to comment on the case.
Since filing the suit, Steinbach has announced her plans to run for mayor.
The village’s policy on computer use also frowns on unauthorized monitoring.
“Reading, altering, redirecting, or deleting another person’s e-mail or computer files without specific authorization is prohibited,” according to the policy. “This applies regardless of whether or not the operating system of the computer permits these actions.”
When Lundt established Steinbach’s village e-mail account in 2003, the commissioner asked that messages to the account be forwarded to another e-mail account that is not maintained by the village, according to the court record. Sometime in May, Steinbach told Lundt she was not consistently receiving mail from the village account. Lundt instructed her on how to obtain her messages directly from the web mail server maintained by Hostway Corporation, according to Steinbach’s suit.
On July 7 she used the password information given to her by Lundt to directly access the server. According to Steinbach, this was the first time she had done so. It was at this time she saw several messages posted in the “Webmail Sent Folder.”
“The forwarded e-mails represented private e-mails that had been sent by some of her constituents and other third parties to Commissioner Steinbach’s Forest Park e-mail account,” according to Steinbach’s filing.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino declined to comment on the updated filing, but has previously said an in-house investigation turned up no wrongdoing. That inquiry cost the village approximately $10,000, Sturino said.
Steinbach’s attorney Charles Mudd Jr., did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Lundt also did not respond to requests for an interview.