University president breached students privacy

A former president of Athabasca University in Alberta breached a students privacy by disclosing too much personal information to fellow university employees.

That was the ruling by Dave Bell, the adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).

“What happened was the complainant had emailed the president asking if she could retake some courses and rewrite a particular exam,” said spokesperson Wayne Wood of the Alberta OIPC. “There was a series of emails back and forth with each other because the president really didn’t want to deal with her in person anymore and preferred to have everything done in writing.”

Wood said (former president Dr. Dominique Abrioux) then forwarded his original set of emails to other staff at the university to inform them he would only deal with this individual in written form from that point on.

“Then the individual discovered that some other information of hers was in the email that had been forwarded and that’s when she came to our office and filed a complaint,” said Wood.

When the complaint was made OIPC attempted a mediation process which did not work and then went to what is called an inquiry process in Alberta, according to Wood.

He said they have had similar cases in the past, but this would probably be one of the first ones that would be “high up in the chain.”

“My understanding is that (Abrioux) is not with the university anymore but for different reasons,” Wood said.

He noted the complainant could not be identified at her request.

In his ruling Bell ordered the university to develop a written policy and procedure regarding the disclosure of personal information in this type of situation.

“(The ruling) had just come out last week, and if they don’t now have something in place they would be given a timeframe, in this particular case it’s about 45 days,” said Wood.

If anything this case is a cautionary tale with respect to forwarding emails, he said.

“What we’re saying in this particular instance is that if you have an email, read it before you hit forward to ensure that you’re not passing on information that could be of a personal nature,” Wood said. “We’re very confident in this particular case that it was not done deliberately, it was just an innocent mistake.”

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