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Confidential info of 571 students mistakenly sent in email

Andrew Ikeman | Fulcrum Staff

Photo illustration by Mathias MacPhee

THE FACULTY OF Social Sciences (FSS) accidentally released a document last week containing the personal information of 571 students in the faculty. The information was released on Nov. 26 in the form of a spreadsheet sent via email to 305 students in the faculty. The faculty then sent a subsequent email to the 305 students asking them to delete the previous email and spreadsheet.

FSS Dean Marcel Mérette said that one of his staff was sending an email about a course to the students, but accidentally sent the wrong file.

“Essentially, one of our staff was planning to send an email to a list of students of about 300, inviting them to look at the opportunity to have what we call a field research course,” said Mérette. “You need to have a minimum average to be allowed to take this kind of course—so she had access to an Excel file, in which we have the names of the those students, their student numbers, and their [grade point] average. Unfortunately she sent the wrong file; she sent the Excel file with those names.”

Mérette said that the employee has been working at the university for many years and will not be disciplined. He said the reason for the faculty’s quick response was the violation of the privacy of those on the list. On Nov. 27, Mérette apologized to the students who received the email.

“This unfortunate incident, for which we sincerely apologize, was caused by human error,” Mérette wrote in the apology email. “Privacy is a value of utmost importance to our faculty and university. I therefore asked staff to immediately review all procedures governing email communications so as to ensure that confidentiality be secured at all times. I am confident that such an error will not occur again.”

The information released included the names, email addresses, GPAs, and number of credits completed of 571 third- and fourth-year students. According to Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) vp communications Anne-Marie Roy, now would be a good time for the university to re-examine its security policies.

“I feel like this isn’t just a faculty problem—it is a University of Ottawa-wide problem,” said Roy. “We feel that the university needs to re-evaluate not just its security measures for the Faculty of Social Sciences, but for the campus at large.”

Blair Lebeau, a second-year U of O student, is in the process of transferring into the FSS and felt the incident could affect the reputation of the faculty.

“I feel like [the leak] is kind of an invasion of privacy,” said Lebeau. “They did handle it the best way they could, but still a human error [this] large tarnishes the record of the faculty itself.”

According to Mérette, the faculty has reviewed the protocol surrounding emails, and will now mandate all faculty emails to be viewed by multiple parties.