A Note on Privacy

Privacy rights and Google Apps for Education Edition

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has determined that there is not an automatic infringement of privacy rights in cases where email is provided to an organization by a US-based company.

Wilfrid Laurier University and Google take privacy rights seriously and have processes in place to protect privacy, subject to legal requirements. Laurier’s agreement with Google Apps for Education Edition ensures that Google will not release personal information unless required by law.

Is my personal information secure?

Email is generally not considered a secure communication medium as it is sent over the Internet.

Webmail is secured by HTTPS (SSL/TLS) effectively secures your login credentials (username & password) and prevents someone from accessing or using your account. This is the same system that is used by Banks and Credit Cards Companies for Online transactions.

Can the US Government access my personal information?

The US and Canadian governments readily share information under bilateral agreements and existing legislation -- whether the information is hosted in Canada or in the United States.

Because the information may be hosted in the United States, the US Government could obtain direct access to the information under certain conditions. When information is hosted in Canada, the US Government can approach the Canadian Government to access the information.

Note that email messages exist in the accounts they are sent from, the accounts they are sent to, as well as any accounts receiving a forwarded email. If any of these accounts exist on servers in the US, then the email messages could be accessible by the US government. 

What is the US Patriot Act?

The Patriot Act allows the US government to access personal information that is held or accessible by anyone within the United States or by any US citizen. The government would either apply for a court order to access the information or issue National Security Letters requesting that the information be disclosed. The information can be accessed when it is deemed relevant to an investigation against terrorism or intelligence activities.

Similar procedures exist in Canada through a court order or legislation, such as the Criminal Code, Canada Anti-Terrorism Act, and Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, allowing the Canadian government to view personal information in email accounts. 

Email Privacy

Regardless of where it is hosted, email by its nature is insecure. While in transit, email is often unencrypted and could be intercepted. You should always assume email is not private. This is true for all email services.

When you check your email, Google provides a secure connection from your web browser and/or email client. This encrypts the data between you and Google’s servers while you view or collect your mail. This is the same system that banks use to secure your connection for online banking.
Take the following steps to protect your privacy when using email:
  • When using a shared or public computer, always sign out of your myLaurier webmail account at the end of your session to ensure that the next user cannot view your mail.
  • The more complex your password, the better. Passwords that include a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and characters are the most secure.
  • Confirm that links in emails are genuine before opening them and exposing your account to a virus.
  • Turn off your preview pane – some viruses can be activated by an email preview.
  • When sending important information in a file attachment, protect the file with a password.