UNIVERSITY NEGLIGENCE BREACHES PRIVACY LAWS

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By Josh Bailie and Steve Silva

Ryerson violated Ontario privacy laws by leaving confidential documents in empty, unlocked offices in Kerr Hall South.

Payroll stubs, student numbers, grades and exams along with staff tenure reports and resumes were scattered across the office space last used by the mechanical and industrial engineering faculty in late 2007.

The rooms were found desterted last week with scattered boxes labelled “shred” and “confidential.”

“Whether we know for sure whether anybody read those records or not, the fact that they’re unsecured and they contain sensitive, personal information, that is an issue,” said Heather Driscoll, Ryerson’s FIPPA (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) co-ordinator. She said a privacy breach is “the potential for unauthorized access to another person’s personal information.”

Since June 10, 2006, Ontario universities have been subject to the province’s information privacy laws and Ryerson is responsible for protecting “unauthorized disclosure” according to Ryerson’s Freedom of Information Guidelines and the Protection of Privacy Guidelines.

FIPPA is an administrative law, not a criminal law, and it is unlikely that anyone will be charged for the violation. Still, if a formal complaint is filed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Ryerson will have to deal with a public investigation.

Driscoll said an investigation will be conducted either way. The investigation will discover how and why the breach occurred. Individuals affected will be informed of the situation and what’s been done to secure their records.

Ryerson has several methods to maintain confidentiality. John Harness, Information Systems Security officer, consults departments on how to best secure private information. Harness was unavailable for comment.

Campus Planning and Facilities shreds documents at the request of faculty and is responsible for locking interior doors. The associate director of campus planning and development, Manuel Ravinsky, said during moves and renovations the doors are supposed to be locked. “I have no idea why they were left unlocked, I know nothing about it,” he said.

Kerry Thakurdin’s marks, name and student number were made public by the mishap.

“I’m pretty sure someone could use it for their own benefit,” said the mechanical engineering graduate, mentioning how exam questions are often repeated. He’s also worried about his personal privacy.

The records have now been removed.

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