After Scandal, Faust Sets Forth Interim Protocols for Email Searches

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Any searches of Harvard email accounts that take place before existing policies are reformed must be thoroughly recorded and subject to the approval of an accountable administrator, according to interim, University-wide protocols laid out Thursday by University President Drew G. Faust.

The protocols, set forth in a memorandum sent to the deans of Harvard’s schools, come one month after the release of a report by Boston attorney Michael B. Keating detailing the sequence of events surrounding controversial email searches conducted by administrators last fall. The new interim rules are designed to address Faust’s concern, she wrote in her memo, that Harvard needs “‘clearer, better, and more widely understood policies and protocols to honor the important privacy interests that we should exercise the utmost vigilance to uphold.’”

The memo dictates that until then, email searches “should occur only after careful institutional consideration and in response to legitimate institutional interests,” and only after an approval process consistent with “the University’s values.” Searches at any school must involve either the University or school chief information officer, who must make sure that the search is “conducted narrowly” and that any accessed data is kept secure, according to the memo.

The memo also states that the Office of the General Counsel, Harvard University Information Technology, and school chief information officers must ensure record-keeping of any searches, along with their justifications, and meet regularly to review those records.

According to the memo, which is posted on the HUIT website, the interim rules will guide email searches at Harvard while a task force of 16 professors and deans works to determine a new approach to email privacy for the University in the wake of last fall’s secret searches of resident deans’ accounts. Those searches received the attention of the national media, garnered criticism from faculty and students, and, some believe, led to the departure of former Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds earlier this summer.

The task force, which is headed by Harvard Law School professor and former Crimson president David J. Barron ’89, is expected to make recommendations to Faust by January 2014 on how to clarify and improve email policies, possibly with a University-wide protocol. In her memo on Thursday, Faust wrote that the interim policies are “not a substitute for a broader review,” and merely “clarify and build on our existing policies and procedures.”

“It is the charge of the task force, after reaching out the University community this fall, to thoughtfully examine, debate, and recommend the more comprehensive approach that is needed,” she wrote.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.

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