Questions over Geneseo email privacy follow University of Rochester’s secret investigation of professors’ accounts

 A student uses her laptop to access her Geneseo email account. Security concerns over the college’s policy on email privacy came about after two University of Rochester professor’s emails were searched by investigators following their claims of sexual misconduct against a fellow colleague (Annalee Bainnson/Photo Editor).

A student uses her laptop to access her Geneseo email account. Security concerns over the college’s policy on email privacy came about after two University of Rochester professor’s emails were searched by investigators following their claims of sexual misconduct against a fellow colleague (Annalee Bainnson/Photo Editor).

Controversy regarding the security of two professors’ email accounts at the University of Rochester has raised concerns among some Geneseo faculty and students as to the college’s guidelines on email confidentiality.

Two University of Rochester professors, who accused a colleague of sexual misconduct, claim they had their university email accounts searched by college administrators, according to an article from Inside Higher Ed. The search of their email was allegedly conducted to uncover information that could be used to discredit the professors during an internal investigation, according to the same article.

While Geneseo’s Computing and Information Technology Department has the capabilities to search any university email account, CIT personnel would only be permitted to do so during a formal investigation, according to Chief Information Officer and director of CIT Sue Chichester.

“We do have the capabilities to search email accounts, but it wouldn’t happen at will and it wouldn’t happen unless there was some sort of formal investigation where we received legal counsel as to whether we should do that,” Chichester said. “An investigation would probably come from Human Resources, which would be working with the SUNY Counsel. The SUNY system has a host of lawyers and we have one who’s assigned to our school. We would follow what our legal counsel advised us to do.”

Geneseo has selected Google’s G Suite for Education to provide members of the campus with applications, including Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Contacts, Drive and Vault. The G Suite allows a select handful of CIT personnel to view university email accounts through special administrative accounts, according to senior systems analyst David Warden.

“Google gives us a number of administrative tools,” Warden said. “They include logs so we can search for messages—the sender, the receiver, the subject, the date and whether Google marked that message as spam or not. We tend to use those when someone says, ‘hey, I sent this message to somebody but I’m worried it got marked as spam.’ The other administrative tool Google gives us is Google Vault. It’s a tool for saving emails in the event of a legal hold. If someone subpoenas an email for a user, we would use that tool to institute it.”

The Vault application allows administrators to preserve emails in question, even if the individual under investigation has deleted them, Warden said. The investigated party would not know that their deleted emails have been vaulted, according to Warden.

Lecturer in the School of Business Michele Volza expressed support for the college’s email security policies. 

“The college’s email policies were discussed during orientation at CIT training—they spelled it right out for us,” Volza said. “As an employee, you should know that your emails can be searched. If you’re dealing with sensitive information, you shouldn’t use your Geneseo email. In this day and age, it should be common sense that an employee doesn’t own their [university] email account.”

Psychology major junior Mackenzie Garver echoed the notion that university email users should be aware of the limitations to their privacy

“I feel like it’s almost a given that the school could have access to information in our emails,” Garver said. “It actually makes me feel better knowing they can search through emails in the case of an emergency.”

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