UI officials hope to break the illusion of privacy

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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For faculty and staff at the University of Iowa, privacy is part illusion.

Because the university is a public institution, most work-related materials are available if the public requests them. This includes emails and password-protected material.

“In looking at the policy as it currently stands, [and] I think one can be misled as to the amount of privacy one has in terms of IT resources at the university,” said Kevin Ward, the assistant vice president for Human Resources. “We felt it was important to update that to make it more accurate for faculty and staff to understand that point.”

Officials hope the policy will become better understood across campus.

“Before I had this position, I did not know as much about emails and the idea that pretty much anyone who wants to look at your email can do that,” said Professor Linda Snetselaar, the president of the Faculty Senate. “That’s just something that we need to keep in mind.”

Ward presented the new document to the Faculty Council at Tuesday’s meeting and emphasized that just because something is protected by a password doesn’t necessarily mean it is off-limits to the public.

“We are trying to break past that illusion that just because it’s a password-protected drive, it’s always going to be private,” he said.

The revised version of the Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources Policy was revamped in an effort to reflect both the advances in technology and in an effort to be transparent.

“We are trying to use more flexible language around information-technology resources to recognize not only the tech we have now, but perhaps some we don’t even perceive from the future,” Ward said.

One council member, Professor Katherine Tachau, expressed concern in how the document explained that anything done on a university computer, with a few specific exceptions, is subject to release by the UI.

“Most faculty don’t know the law,” Tachau said. “They are going to read that and are suddenly going to think that all of their personal, copyrighted material, is subject to being released by the university.”

Another Faculty Council member hopes the document will become clearer.

“Mostly you talk about documents and records and emails,” said Associate Professor Bob McMurray. “But there are all sorts of implicit documentation computers are doing that people aren’t aware of, and if any of that implies, it might be helpful to bring it out for faculty that don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff.”

Another point officials are hoping to educate faculty and staff about is that, even on private computers and private accounts, if something is work-related, it is subject to subpoena.

“I, in the past, thought that your private email was your private email,” Snetselaar, said. “It’s a little bit scary that anything you’re doing with email can be looked at when pretty much anyone wants to.”
Snetselaar hopes faculty will read the policy and come to understand that point.

“I think that policy will help make that clear to faculty,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s a very good policy, very timely, and something that is really needed.”

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

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