The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Harvard email privacy lesson: Read before you select “I agree”

Harvard once again finds itself once again in the midst of a scandal. Last fall, it was rampant cheating in one class. Now, seemingly unwarranted email searches.

Harvard officials authorized the email searches of 16 resident deans involved in the cheating investigation. The purpose of the searches was to discern whether these resident deans had released confidential information about the scandal, alerting media outlets. The resident deans were never notified that their emails were to be searched.

Note that I do not say “searched without consent,” but I’ll get to that in a second.

These resident deans didn’t need to be informed of the searches because they were considered by the administration to be staff, not faculty. Faculty would have been informed. It’s really more of a semantics issue than anything else. Sure, they’ve been lamenting the breach of trust and general creepiness of it, but in terms of how the administration worked it out, they did nothing wrong.

The resident deans were working with confidential information and, as such, had to follow the rules.

“These policies apply to everyone at Harvard who works with Harvard confidential information,” states the Harvard Enterprise Information Security Policy, last updated on July 27 of last year. “Some employees dealing with high risk information are required to agree to confidentiality agreements by regulation or contractual agreement.”

So back to the point of consent.

Computer technologies are becoming very prolific and with that spread, comes numerous new issues in relation to privacy and consent.

If you haven’t read a contract or say, a terms of service agreement, but you sign or click “agree,” all of your complaints are forfeit. It’s like those people who post those long messages on Facebook stating that Facebook can’t use their content, etc. It’s already too late. You’ve already agreed to Facebook’s terms and services by joining the site. Griping retroactively doesn’t change anything.

This email searching just highlights the need for people to be more aware of what they are agreeing to — whether it’s in regards to personal or professional email, social media sites or even online shopping.

Guilford has similar policies.

Our current handbook states: “If Guilford has a reason to believe that its network is or has been used in violation of the legal rights of any other person or entity or of any college, city, county, state or federal law, regulation or policy, the college reserves the right to review, access or monitor any information, communication or data stored on or transmitted through the network in order to facilitate an investigation or secure evidence related to a violation.”

This means that if you haven’t read the rest of the handbook, you could possibly be in violation without knowing it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but at least at Guilford you will be informed of searches.

So the moral of the story here is to be conscientious. After all, it’s better to have read and understood your agreements, than to never have agreed at all — and then pay the price for it.

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