UCF Says Monitoring is Rare, But Former Student Leader Worries About Abuse
If you’ve ever used your UCF Knights E-mail account to talk about something illegal — like underage drinking in your dorm — or certain other behavior UCF deems inappropriate, the university could electronically obtain your e-mails and use them against you to kick you out of school.
UCF confirmed to KnightNews.com it accessed someone’s Knights E-mail account and used it against them in an investigation at least once already since the university upgraded to the Knights E-mail service, provided by Microsoft, last fall. Students and professors are not allowed to use any e-mail to communicate about class other than Knights E-mail, according to UCF’s policy.
Messages sent over Facebook and other e-mail services, like gmail, can’t be obtained by UCF without a subpoena or other legal action, but the messages sent from a student’s @knights.ucf.edu domain used by the Knights Mail account are fair game.
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So, should you be worried everything you write, and every picture you send, is being scrutinized by someone at UCF? Probably not, according to UCF Spokesman Chad Binette.
“UCF does not routinely monitor student, faculty or staff e-mail accounts,” Binette said. “We take privacy laws very seriously.”
But Binette admitted, “Exceptions could be made for an investigation into inappropriate online or criminal behavior.”
And it’s those exceptions that have some, like former SGA Director of Student Advocacy and 2009 Vice Presidential candidate Brendon Rivard, concerned.
“I think it could be abused,” Rivard said. “I believe that a student goes in with the belief that e-mail is private, without much in the way of a warning that it is not, other than fine print they fail to read more times than not.”
KnightNews.com tried getting more details about the case where UCF accessed someone’s e-mail for an investigation, but citing policy, Binette said he couldn’t provide more specifics about the case.
Rivard is not surprised by the lack of detailed information about UCF’s policy on intercepting student e-mails, and he called for more oversight.
“The administration is not interested in transparency either, so unless there is some accountability measure, students will never know more about the issue than what they read while it is being talked about in the papers,” said Rivard.
UCF has its own police force to investigate criminal behavior, and its Office of Student Conduct investigates inappropriate behavior that violates UCF’s Golden Rule. Binette was careful to point out that aside from criminal investigations, UCF will only intercept e-mails for inappropriate “online” behavior.
We checked UCF’s Golden Rule, and found some online behavior UCF considers inappropriate includes sending unauthorized files, violating ResNet dorm internet policies and even, “use of computing facilities and telecommunications resources to send obscene or abusive messages.”
For students who use Knights E-mail as their only e-mail, that raises the question of whether a cartoon or chain e-mail one person may find funny, could end up being perceived as obscene by someone else, and land you in trouble.
Also, UCF’s police force doesn’t have to charge you with a crime in order to use police powers to gather evidence against you and submit it to the Office of Student Conduct. Rivard worried the Office of Student Conduct could charge a student for a minor crime, even if law enforcement determines not to send it to an actual court of law.
“They are saying they only use it when in cooperation with the law, but what they fail to let the average student know is that Student Conduct operates in its own realm,” Rivard said. “Florida Statutes give Universities power to oversee their own rules as they see fit. Since the addresses are technically owned by UCF, that would be included.”
Despite concerns from students about “Big Brother” being able to look in on their Knights e-mail, one student did tell KnightNews.com that if you don’t write e-mails about breaking rules or laws, you should have nothing to worry about.
Click on the next page below to read UCF’s policy on Telecommunications