Butler University’s Information Technology department has the ability to read students’ email, but Chief Information Officer Scott Kincaid said it chooses not to do so.
“We have the technical ability, I don’t want to deny that,” Kincaid said. “We do it very rarely. And we do it only per a policy.”
The Privacy of Personally Created Content Policy was updated after Butler filed a lawsuit for online speech against student Jess Zimmerman in 2009 when he criticized Butler’s administration.
The policy states that Butler personnel may access students’ information if there is the possibility of “substantial university risk of harm or liability.”
The policy is referring to risk associated with the Butler network, said Ben Hunter, chief of staff and executive director of public safety.
Huner said BUPD has requested information twice in the last four years–about a student suicide and missing-student case.
Kincaid said since he came to Butler in 2001, IT has accessed students’ private information fewer than six times. He said the policy is very clear about the circumstances of when a student should be notified.
“If they were threatening the whole computer system in some fashion, we would have the right to notify them afterwards,” Kincaid said.
Before accessing students’ private information, Kincaid said IT would generally need approval from himself, a vice president or dean at the university and someone from human resources.
“If I had … any thought that someone was intending on bringing some kind of harm to individuals, I wouldn’t have to hesitate … in order to save the community,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson. “Whether it was a joke or however it was intended, we’re going to follow up on something like that.”
Johnson said he thinks adding a student representative into the process of deciding when a student’s privacy should be invaded would be a greater invasion of privacy.
Student Government Association President Mike Keller said he agreed personally with not adding a student representative but would represent the student body’s voice if it felt differently.
Azhar Majeed, an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said while Butler has a pretty good free speech record, it may have overreacted to the case that brought about Butler suing one of its students in 2009.
Creating and switching to a private email is an option students should entertain if they are concerned about Butler’s monitoring capabilities, Majeed said.
“I know several people who use Gmail themselves just because they’re more comfortable knowing that is a more private thing to be able to utilize,” Keller said.
Johnson said students should be cautious with their language, regardless of where they say things online.
“Just like you wouldn’t and you’re not supposed to say certain things at an airport,” Johnson said. “You know what you shouldn’t be saying and insinuating and doing certain things with a computer as well.”