E-mail is the official form of communication within the Mills community, and because of this, the College conducts daily backups and keeps copies of all e-mail sent through the Mills e-mail system, according to Bruce McCreary, senior director of Information Technology Services.
Copies of student, faculty, staff and alumnae’s e-mail archives are kept until Mills’ “storage capacity is exceeded, or [its] tape capacity is surpassed … long-term storage is accomplished in snapshots of the e-mail archive on a semester basis only,” said McCreary.
“It is important to note that while it seems like someone could just browse through any user’s mail like a Peeping Tom, it is not really that simple to do,” McCreary added. “Mills College retains its data to ensure that the primary mission of the College-to educate its students-can persist in the event of a disaster.”
According to McCreary, a disaster is any situation that causes an individual to lose access to their mail due to reasons outside of their control, such as a failed system disk or server, or an earthquake or fire.
A backup is a copy of electronic information that is kept on tapes and in an alternate and secure location in case of any disaster.
Renee Jadushlever, vice president for Operations, said in an e-mail that although Mills has recently moved to a new e-mail system and server, “today’s and previous e-mail systems have always held daily backups for disaster recovery purposes.”
But as of Dec. 1, 2006, all public and private organizations gained the responsibility of retaining all e-mail under federal law.
The Electronic Discovery Law is an amendment to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures (FRCP) that establishes “procedures for a person to obtain discovery of all electronically stored information,” according to the E-Discovery Analysis and Technology website.
Seemingly, E-Discovery was created to keep up with the times. Now, aside from the Federal government being able to listen in on phone calls and go through a person’s mail under certain legal circumstances, the government can now subpoena e-mail communication.
The FRCP are rules, set by the U.S. Supreme Courts and approved by the U.S. Congress, that govern civil procedure in U.S. district courts.
Federal laws regarding E-Discovery have not been finalized, but “Mills ITS is currently monitoring the requirements of E-Discovery in legal cases and trying to determine what are the expectations and/or requirements of the U.S. legal system against the Mills College e-mail system,” McCreary said.
Although McCreary said system administrators never read a person’s e-mail unless it is requested as part of a legal matter, associate professor of computer science, Ellen Spertus, said colleges do have the legal right to read e-mail sent through their e-mail accounts.
While this is possible, McCreary said “data traveling across the Mills network that you send to Hotmail or Gmail is not viewed by Mills ITS staff. The actual policies and practices of those external services vary and are beyond Mills’ control or purview.”
Spertus was director-at-large for Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility from July 1997 to June 1999. The organization’s motto is “Technology is driving the future. It is up to us to do the steering,” according to cpsr.org.
Although e-mail sent through a Mills account might not be as vulnerable as electronic information can be, Spertus said everyone should “think carefully before committing something to e-mail or posting it to the Web or their social networking account.”