Local News

Soldier Takes N.C. National Guard To Court Over E-mail

Posted February 22, 2005 3:13 a.m. EST

— Twenty years of military experience did not prepare David Culbreth for his next battle. Culbreth is suing his former bosses in the North Carolina National Guard after he was fired from his full-time job for inappropriate conduct.

The conduct was based on comments Culbreth made in a 2003 e-mail -- an e-mail he said the Guard never had the right to read. The e-mail was sent from his personal computer at his house on a personal account to Col. Fred Aikens, who was on active duty in Kuwait at the time.

"I had a reasonable expectation of privacy between me and Col. Aikens. I don't think they had the right to get the e-mails that were gotten," Culbreth said.

Aikens agrees with Culbreth, saying his e-mail was illegally monitored back in North Carolina.

"His higher command in Kuwait knew nothing of his e-mails being taken from his account," Culbreth said.

Because of the pending litigation, the two men would not show WRAL the contents of the e-mail. However, both said Culbreth was merely venting about a promotion he did not receive.

"Soldiers moan and groan and complain all the time," Aikens said.

Both men expect the case of military monitoring to have a precedent-setting effect.

"Now if the North Carolina Guard has the legal authoritiy to do so, why don't they just say so? Why drag the state into a lawsuit," Aikens said.

Right now, the Attorney General's Office is trying to get the case thrown out of court. The government can monitor e-mail, but the lawsuit said the National Guard had no right to intercept e-mails that were sent overseas.

The number of e-mail boxes in the world grew from an estimated 500 million in 2002 to 36 billion now. With that growth, there is more debate about e-mail privacy.

Because employers own workplace computers, they have the right to monitor your e-mail. The same thing goes for state employees, but there is a twist. Their e-mails are actually considered public record. Finally, the U.S. Court of Appeals also just ruled e-mail providers can monitor incoming messages, so what you write is not necessarily for your eyes and the recipient's eyes only.