Bob Bramucci, Andy Howard and Kristina Kauffman
None of the authors of this page are attorneys and
the information contained on this page is NOT intended as legal advice.
We hope it broadens your understanding of some of the risks of cyber space
and concerns you should have about protecting your privacy.
It should be noted that under the Freedom of Information Act it may be
possible for the newsmedia to request the entire contents of the hard
drive of the computer you use to complete college business.
The Internet's strength lies
in its openness, providing easy access to information across the globe.
However, that's also one of the Internet's weakness, since it means others
may have access to information about you. The privacy of what you do on
the Internet depends on the types of activities in which you engage. The
bottom line is that there are virtually no online activities or services
that guarantee an absolute right of privacy.
- "Public" activities:
Many online activities are open to public inspection. Engaging in these
types of activities does not normally create an expectation of privacy.
In fact, according to the
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)
it is not illegal for anyone to view or disclose an electronic
communication if the communication is "readily accessible"
to the public.
For example, a message
you post to a public newsgroup or forum is available for anyone
to view, copy, and store. In addition, your name, electronic mail
(e-mail) address, and information about your service provider are
usually available for inspection as part of the message itself.
Most public postings made on the Internet are archived in searchable
databases. Thus, on the Internet, your public messages can be accessed
by anyone at anytime -- even years after the message was originally
Other public activities
may allow your message to be sent to multiple recipients. Online newsletters,
for example, are usually sent to a mailing list of subscribers. If
you wish to privately reply to a message posted in an online newsletter,
be sure you address it specifically to that person's address, not
to the newsletter address. Otherwise, you might find that your message
has been sent to everyone on the newsletter mailing list.
activities: Often the presence of security or access safeguards
on certain forums or services can lead users to believe that communications
made within these services are private. For example, some online forums
or discussion boards are restricted to users who have a password. While
communications made in these forums may initially be read only by the
members with access, there is nothing preventing those members from
recording the communications and later transmitting them elsewhere.
One example of this kind
of activity is the real-time "chat", where participants
type live messages directly to the computer screens of other participants.
However, chat users may capture, store, and transmit these communications
to others outside the chat service. Additionally, these activities
are subject to the same monitoring exceptions which apply to "private"
e-mail (see next section).
- Private activities:
Virtually all online services offer some sort of "private"
activity which allows subscribers to send personal e-mail messages to
others. The ECPA makes it unlawful for anyone to read or disclose the
contents of an electronic communication. This law applies to e-mail
messages. However, there are three important exceptions to the ECPA.
- The online service may
view private e-mail if it suspects the sender is attempting to damage
the system or harm another user. However, random monitoring of e-mail
- The service may legally
view and disclose private e-mail if either the sender or the recipient
of the message consents to the inspection or disclosure. Many commercial
services require a consent agreement from new members when signing
up for the service.
- If the e-mail system
is owned by an employer, the employer may inspect the contents of
employee e-mail on the system. Therefore, any e-mail sent from
a business location is probably not private. Several court cases
have determined that employers have a right to monitor e-mail messages
of their employees.
While recognizing the technical
and legal aspects of e-mail mentioned above, the Academic Senate of
California Community Colleges has taken a strong position that academic
freedom and shared governance require the a priori assumption of confidentiality
of all email messages.
To increase e-mail privacy,
many instructors keep a private e-mail account for personal matters
separate from their college account. Free accounts can be obtained
from numerous online providers including hotmail, yahoo and others.
Be sure to read their privacy policies.
- Computers and
e-mail accounts provided by an employer MAY be subject
to review or disclosure in accordance with laws, subpoenas,
administrative reviews or audits of computer use for security
purposes, or even computer system maintenance.
- In other
words assume anyone on campus may read what you write
on your college computer, or send via college e-mail.
assume you're completely anonymous.
- Deleting the
file may not completely erase it from the computer. In fact,
until the spaces on that computer hard drive are refilled
the file will be retreivable using specialized techniques.
Privacy and "cookies":
When you are surfing the web, many web sites deposit data about your
visit, called "cookies," on your hard drive. When you return
to that site, the cookies data will reveal that you've been there before.
The web site might offer you products or ads tailored to your interests,
based on the contents of the cookies data. Cookies are text files and
cannot do anything harmful to your computer.
Security Concerns when using a college's equipment
to your schoolís computer system is a privilege, not a right.
But itís a privilege that can be lost by engaging in behaviors that
are illegal or violate the schoolís rules. Keep in mind that if you
violate computer policies and/or laws, you could not only lose your
computer access but also undergo disciplinary action or even be arrested.
Protect yourself by:
- Maintaining the confidentiality
of your password and account. Choose a non-obvious password, and update
- Don't ever give your password
to anyone who writes or calls you, even if they claim to be a systems
- Don't provide too much
personal information about yourself. Some "identity thieves"
operate over the Internet.
- Don't assume everyone
online is who they say they are. Unfortunately, that "supermodel"
you've been conversing with is more likely a man whose last modeling
gig was at the DMV.
- When using a public computer,
close your internet browser at the end of each session online. If
you donít, someone else could use your account, and youíll be liable
for any loss or damage that arises.
- If you become aware of
any unauthorized use of your account or any other breach of security,
you should notify your system's administrator immediately.
break the law!
the same kinds of behaviors that are illegal off the Internet
(e.g., discrimination, slander, copyright violations) are illegal on
the Internet, including:
- discrimination on the
basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, appearance or religious persuasion
- copyright infringement
or illegal use of copyrighted software
- libel and/or slander
- harassment, stalking,
- attempts to "hack"
into the computer system
- purposefully uploading
computer viruses to the system.