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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

College fails to properly dispose of documents Privacy breach at Red River

Posted: 12/4/2011 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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More than 1,000 pages of campus crime reports, complete with the names, addresses and even photos of some victims, were dumped in a recycling bin at Red River College, a privacy breach the college calls "very serious."

The college has referred the matter to the provincial Ombdusman office to determine the severity of the privacy violations.

The documents were found shortly after 9 p.m. Nov. 18 in a lidless recycling bin in a first-floor hallway of the downtown campus where the day before students were filming a class project. The documents include hundreds of incident reports written by security staff involving students lingering on campus after closing time, medical emergencies, threats, laptop thefts, assaults and possible stalkings.

More than 100 victims are identified by name in the documents, which date between Sept. 2009 and July 2010. Among those, 38 people had their photo, birthdate, home address and phone number compromised by the improper disposal of the incident reports.

Other information in the documents includes email addresses, citizenship statuses and one instance of gang affiliation.

One college security memo contains a printout of an email from a college administrator that tells of a female student being harassed for several months by an ex-boyfriend. The email contains the name of the ex-boyfriend as well as the name of the female student, her phone number and other information that could be used to locate her.

"I'm shocked that such confidential documents could have been in the hands of anybody," said the student, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition her name not be published.

"This is a very serious breach in privacy," acknowledged Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth.

She said privacy protection is something the college has always taken seriously and. The college has a policy relating to proper disposal of confidential waste but "obviously, in this instance, there was an error," she said.

Forsyth said the campus security office was being cleaned out and the pages were initially placed in an area designated for shredding. From there, campus security video shows they were taken by a cleaner and placed into the recycling bin. Forsyth was unable to comment on how long the documents were sitting in the hallway prior to being discovered.

The cleaner is an employee of a private contractor hired by the college. Forsyth says the college has reviewed its document-disposal policies with the cleaning company, and she is "confident it won't happen again."

Another student had her name, photo, birthdate, home address and phone number included in the documents because she returned a course-issued laptop to the security desk. She also asked her name not be used as she is concerned about her identity. She said the incident "doesn't make me happy."

But a male student who was barred from the campus gymnasium wasn't overly concerned about the sloppy handling of his personal information, saying he would have considered the matter more serious if any of his financial information had been found among the documents.

"It really doesn't matter to me," he said.

The found documents were returned to Red River College immediately upon the request of Jim Drever, the college's security manager. Drever was unaware the documents had been removed from the college and said they should have been inside a locked container specifically designated for confidential waste.

This isn't the first problem with security at the downtown campus. In 2009, two day's-worth of tuition paid by students was stolen from a safe located in an office at the college. According to a security guard who worked at the college at the time, the crime took place overnight and the burglar made off with thousands of dollars. The matter was referred to the police but no charges have ever been laid.

garth.hilderman@gmail.com

Garth Hilderman is a second-year journalism student in Red River College's creative communications program.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2011 A5

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