In January, questions of university email privacy came to light after more than a hundred personal emails sent by former University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel were released to the public. The release was part of an investigation involving an inappropriate relationship with a fellow employee.
When citing the investigation of Schlissel, the University of Michigan Board of Regents released a series of communications sent from his university email. This included 118 pages of emails between Schlissel and the unidentified employee.
This unfortunate event serves as a reminder that university email accounts are not as private as we may think. Everyone should be cautious of using University of Iowa email accounts for personal reasons because they can be accessed by the university.
If you are anything like me, your student email address is not used solely for school. My inbox contains hundreds of emails ranging from school events, Valentine’s Day deals, work-related messages, and spam. In truth, my UI email also functions as my personal email.
But if you have never thought twice about your email privacy, now is the time to listen.
According to the UI operations manual, messages sent through UI emails can be accessed if reasonably authorized.
Section 19.3 of the manual reads, “Users should also be aware that their uses of University information technology resources are not completely private as the information contained will be subject to the University’s obligation to respond to subpoenas or other court orders, reasonable discovery requests, and public requests for documents pursuant to Iowa Code Chapter 22, the Public (Open) Records Law.”
This means that if under investigation, the UI could access your personal messages or information to others. In the case of Schlissel, intimate details of his relationship were released to the public, further damaging his reputation.
While this policy is subject to most messages, some confidential information is protected.
The operations manual cites, “All University records are subject to public record requests, unless an expressed exception in the law recognizes the confidentiality of the material, such as the exceptions provided for student, medical, or library records.”
Though some confidential information is protected, the vast majority of messages and information sent through UI emails is not. So, you should reevaluate how you manage your UI email.
The university recommends “faculty and staff refrain from keeping personal information on University systems, and utilize a personal email account for their personal communications.”
But practicing this method also extends to students because your personal information could be accessed.
Using a personal email account is not only important for your privacy, but also a valuable system to use beyond your time at the UI.
Many businesses and jobs require you to use a professional email that includes your company domain. However, like university email accounts, messages sent on a professional email account are often subject to the company’s discretion.
In 2015, an article published by The New York Times accused former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of using a private email server for both personal and work-related messaging. This incident led to multiple investigations and remained a point of contention in Clinton’s reputation.
Mistakes made by high officials, like Schlissel and Clinton, can serve as a lesson for us all. Be cautious and aware of the information you send online through personal, business, and school email accounts.
Though mistakes easily fall between the cracks, a minor mishandling of private information can have serious implications on your future. So please, think twice about your privacy before misusing your UI email.
Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.