Private information found on university Web site
Identifying data had been online for nearly six months
- October 3, 2003
- Stephen Yeargin, Executive Editor
- Section: Cover
Over 60 names, addresses and Social Security numbers on petitions to form four new campus organizations were posted publicly on the Student Life Web site, contradicting a university-wide initiative to protect the private information of students.
Petitioning members of UTM Right to Life, Futbol Club (Soccer), Athletic Trainers Society and Photography Club’s names, addresses and Social Security numbers appeared on scanned PDF copies of the petitions that were placed on the site.
The page now contains a notice telling visitors that the documents are pending update.
The Pacer’s technical editor, Samantha Young, discovered that the petitions had been online for nearly six months, with the server indicating the files had been created on or about April 4, 2003.
The Pacer contacted Joey Pierce, SGA Campus Observa-tions Chair, shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday to brief him on the discovery and implications for those students listed.
Pierce informed the SGA Executive Council that Steve Vantrease, UC director and co-adviser to the SGA, took the necessary measures to have the links removed within 20 minutes.
About noon Tuesday, the Web page had been modified so that the links no longer functioned. However, the petitions remained on the Web site in folders. The files were no longer available as of 2:30 p.m.
“I’m glad that information [less the Social Security numbers] is out there, but this certainly wasn't the way to go about doing it,” Vantrease said.
When asked about the incident, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Katie High said that one step to be taken in the near future is the hiring of a webmaster, likely to be a student, to manage the hundreds of pages that Student Affairs controls. Without one, High said, “little things like [this] can happen.”
High said that the University Council reviews new petitions each semester for approval. Former Coordinator of Student Activities and Greek Life Denny Bubrig had suggested the use of electronic review to allow members of the council with busy schedules to still be able to have input into the process.
High recalled that the petitions had been sent via e-mail, not linked to the Web site.
Sen. Jeff Hall, also a member of the Futbol Club, found the news that his information had been online “shocking.”
“I had no clue that it was on the Internet. I’m glad that it’s off,” Hall said.
Communications instructor James Bruce, adviser for UTM Right to Life, and Shawn Farnsworth, co-adviser for the Photography Club, both expressed displeasure that the personal information had been made public.
“I am convinced that this was an honest mistake and that everything is/has been done to remedy the situation, including letters of apology to be delivered to the clubs soon,” Farnsworth said.
During an interview with High on Tuesday, she indicated that the advisers of the organizations would be contacted soon.
Farnsworth also said that he was “just as surprised as everyone else that this information had been posted on the Internet.”
Forms printed off of the web site contained personal information including names, addresses and Social Security Numbers.