Protection of Information in Electronic Media

Information and data maintained in electronic media on University computer systems are protected by the same laws and policies, and are subject to the same limitations, as information and communications in other media. Before storing or sending confidential or personal information, campus users should understand that most materials on University systems are, by definition, public records. As such, they are subject to laws and policies that may compel the University to disclose them. The privacy of materials kept in electronic data storage and electronic mail is neither a right nor is it guaranteed.

Examination of Contents of Electronic Messages and Files

Unless required by law or by authorized administrative approval to do otherwise, campus and unit-level system administrators will not examine the contents of electronic messages and files and will make every reasonable effort to protect them from unauthorized inspection, subject to the following:

  • Contents of Email: The contents of electronic messages might be seen by a system administrator in the course of routine maintenance or in order to dispose of undeliverable messages. In addition, electronic mail systems store messages in files (e.g., the file containing a user’s inbound mail.) These files are copied in the course of system backups, and these backup copies may be kept long after original messages were deleted.
  • System Files and Logs: In the course of resolving system performance or security problems, system administrators may examine the contents of files that control the flow of tasks through the system or that grant unauthenticated access to other systems. This includes systems logs that document some activities of users.
  • File and Directory Names: File names and directory names are treated as public information and are not protected.

Process for Requesting Disclosure of Contents of Messages and Files

  • Requesting Disclosure: Requests for disclosure must be made in writing through regular reporting channels, consistent with the guidelines below. Requests for disclosure are made to the campus Chief Information Officer (CIO), who is assigned the responsibility for implementing this policy and ensuring that the scope of the disclosure is limited to a legitimate University purpose. The CIO carries out these responsibilities in consultation with Legal Counsel and other appropriate offices. The CIO may designate an individual to act on his or her behalf in fulfilling these responsibilities. All authorizations by the CIO or designee will include specifications for the form and timing of notification to the person whose information is accessed or disclosed.
  • Action While a Request is Pending: While a request consistent with this process is pending or under consideration, the requesting unit executive officer may ask computer system administrators to take reasonable, necessary steps to maintain, store, or otherwise prevent the deletion or modification of the information being sought. This must be done in such a way as to maintain the privacy of said information until the requested disclosure is reviewed. The Office of the CIO may be able to advise units on appropriate procedures.
  • Notification of Affected Individual(s): When the CIO or a designated authorized unit administrator provides access to, and disclosure of, email messages and/or file content under provisions of external laws, regulations or applications of this University policy, the requesting administrator will normally notify in advance the individual(s) whose information is to be released, indicating the information to be released and the law, regulation or policy that governs the release. If individuals are not notified in advance, the CIO will be responsible for determining when notification is appropriate and for ensuring that such notification is carried out. Circumstances in which notification may be delayed include, but are not limited to, (1) the presentation by legal bodies of subpoenas or other instruments prohibiting advance notification, (2) situations where the safety of individuals is involved, or (3) investigations or inquiries conducted under published University policies.
  • Conditions for Disclosure: In the absence of legally compelled access or disclosure, the CIO is authorized to grant access to a user’s file contents or electronic mail messages, or to give copies of them to any third party within the University only if all the guidelines below are met:

i) The access or disclosure is requested in writing through regular University reporting channels, including the unit executive officer of the individual whose information is being disclosed and the next administrator in that reporting chain.
ii) The reason for the requested disclosure serves a legitimate University purpose.
iii) The disclosure is not invasive of legitimate privacy interests or unreasonable under the circumstances, e.g., in light of alternative means of acquiring the information or achieving the requester’s purpose.
iv) The nature and scope of the disclosure is submitted in writing to and approved by the CIO. This request is normally submitted by the approving executive officer indicated above.
v) The affected individuals are notified in a timely manner in writing of any access or disclosure.