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Equity service centre privacy in jeopardy

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By Nicole Schmidt

Discrepancies over privacy policies within the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) have raised concerns among the equity service centres.

According to a set of staff guidelines sent out last month, no electronic data stored on RSU computers — including emails — should be deleted. Additionally, employees “do not and should not have any expectation of privacy in their use of RSU computer resources” — all activity can be inspected and monitored.

But privacy is an important part of the one-on-one trust equity centres operate on. RyePRIDE coordinator Daniella Enxuga, who has worked in the equity centres for two years, said some students disclose information about hidden sexual identities, gender identities, health issues and trauma via email. These discussions are occasionally followed by requests to delete messages which Enxuga said has never been a problem.

“It’s always been understood that the person a student is disclosing this information with will stay confidential between them and the peer advisor,” Enxuga said. “Even if only one other person reads [the email], that person has just been outed to someone they didn’t want to be outed to.”

Markus Harwood-Jones, a coordinator at the Trans Collective, added that some students email from accounts they registered for under one name, but now prefer another. “That’s an issue of confidentiality because it’s effectively dead naming the person,” he said. “Many trans people feel very strongly about their previous names not being known or used.”

RSU president Andrea Bartlett said the policies aren’t new and were sent as a reminder. Equity campaigns organiser Corey Scott said he wasn’t aware of policies surrounding deleted emails in years past and that some of the changes are new.

Carlos Martins, a Toronto media lawyer who has provided legal services to The Eyeopener, said under Ontario privacy legislation, there’s no legal reason why emails of sensitive nature could not be deleted.

According to Bartlett, policies are intended to protect students and staff, and help with employee transitions. She added emails can be evaluated on a case by case basis, and that it’s up to staff to ensure privacy is respected. But Enxuga said she’s been told repeatedly not to delete emails by RSU executives despite circumstances, and that even if messages are deleted, they’re automatically backed up.

The RSU does not currently have a privacy policy posted on their website, and the 2015 policy manual does not have privacy information listed under the equity service centres. Concerns have been raised by equity centre staff about transparency surrounding these policies.

Sidney Drmay, a coordinator at RyeACCESS, said there needs to be an explanation on what privacy looks like when it comes to the RSU. Harwood-Jones added that trust is a massive component of the equity centres, and trust is predicated on the  understanding of confidentiality.

“There are challenges with maintaining information year to year, but the solution is not to create this kind of a policy where you can’t have any privacy, the solution is to create a long term solution … and to build relationships of trust with students,” Harwood-Jones said.

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