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New policy will clarify electronic privacy requirements on University web pages

by Richard Veilleux - January 29, 2007

UConn officials next month will ask the owners of tens of thousands of University-based web pages to add a link to those pages that will lead users to a new privacy statement and policy.

"It's common for business web sites to contain statements regarding how they collect and use personal information," says Rachel Krinsky Rudnick, the University's privacy compliance officer.

"However, until recently, it was less common to find such statements on college and university web sites."

A 2005 national survey of online privacy practices in higher education conducted by Bentley College and WatchFire showed that while most schools engage in e-commerce, very few schools had privacy notices linked from their main home page or other school-sponsored web sites explaining how.

UConn has had a policy regarding the protection of information gathered electronically since 2002, says Elaine David, security officer in University Information Technology Services (UITS).

UConn also has had a sample "privacy statement" available on its e-policy page.

Yet few UConn web sites had a link to the sample privacy statement.

The updated electronic policy contains information regarding UConn's policies regarding privacy, the collection of personal information, and how that information may be used by the University.

The updated policy also now requires every UConn web site to contain a link to the updated privacy statement.

"Web sites collect a lot of information from visitors, and over the years people have become much more concerned regarding how that information is gathered, used, and protected," David says.

"This policy says that, as a University that cares about privacy, we want to advise people about what we collect and what our principles are."

David says the privacy statement will be linked to the University's home page once it becomes official.

The link also will be available to other University web sites for use on their home pages.

The link will be already formatted into the template University Communications provides web masters on campus for their home pages.

David says UITS will communicate directly with deans, directors, department heads, and web masters about the new policy in early February, advising them of the strategy and urging them to implement the directive to add a link to the privacy statement to their main page and any other web page that collects personally identifiable information.

David says adding the link to all UConn pages will also serve as an educational tool for students.

"As an educational institution, we want our students to be intelligent about the web sites they visit. Some web sites fraudulently collect information by engaging in phishing scams and similar tactics. Legitimate web sites take precautions to secure the information you provide to them," she says.

"We want to teach the students that good web sites give the visitor notice about the information they collect, how they secure the information you provide, and how they use that information," she adds.

David says a number of large corporations will pay top dollar for the information gathered from web site visitors. UConn does not give information it collects to businesses or organizations outside the University.

"The information provided by visitors is used only for legitimate University purposes, in order to provide services to you as a member of the University community," David says.

The policy defines how UConn handles social security numbers; public and non-public information; the use of cookies - small pieces of data passed from a web site to a person's hard drive to enable some services to work more efficiently; the use of e-mail; the use of forms; the collection and use of information, whether collected automatically or voluntarily; limits to privacy; freedom of information requests; and disclosure of personal data to third parties.

"It takes us full circle," says David. "We collect information, which is good for you, but we're careful with it, and let you know what we do with it."

The new and improved privacy statement and policy on electronic privacy and disclaimer notice will be rolled out during the next few weeks.

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