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Working at CSU

E-mail use and privacy on campus

July 16, 2009

Most of us use electronic mail, or e-mail, regularly in our day-to-day jobs at the university. And, as public employees using state resources (just like at many private companies), most things we do on a CSU-issued computer -- in or out of the office -- can be subject to internal and external disclosure.

Prudence and discretion

Colorado State University permits incidental personal use of e-mail and its incremental cost is essentially zero. As a general matter, purely personal, non-work related e-mails will not be subject to disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act. Nonetheless, personal use of university e-mail services must be done with prudence and discretion.

As a matter of course, the university generally treats individuals' e-mails as private and secure. When the university receives a subpoena, court order, or an open records act request for employees’ e-mails, the university will only release responsive documentation after legal review from the Office of General Counsel and upon notice to the affected employees.

Public records and confidentiality

Following is a summary for Colorado State University employees of key points to be aware of and remember from the university e-mail policy.

  • E-mail messages are subject to many laws such as the Colorado Open Records Act, the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, and the Colorado State Archives & Public Records Act.
  • Under the Colorado Open Records Act, electronic files are treated the same as paper files.
  • Your e-mails may be considered public records and may be subject to inspection.
  • Confidentiality of e-mail message content cannot be guaranteed (i.e., copies can be forwarded to others electronically or on paper, etc.).
  • The contents of e-mail messages are not routinely monitored by the university.
  • The university may monitor e-mail where required to prevent the continued use of e-mail messages for illegal purposes or to meet externally imposed legal requirements. 

University privilege

  • Access to e-mail at CSU is a privilege and must be treated as such.
  • Abuse of privileges can be a matter of legal action or official campus disciplinary procedures.
  • An individual's privilege of access may be suspended in a case where an inappropriate use severely impacts performance or security of university services. 
  • Acceptable use of e-mail is based on common sense, common decency, and civility.

Unacceptable use of e-mail

  • Misrepresentation of identity or source.
  • Using e-mail for any purpose that violates federal or state laws.
  • Using university e-mail for commercial purposes.
  • Sending patently harassing, intimidating, abusive, or offensive material to or about others.
  • Intercepting, disrupting, or altering electronic communications.
  • Using the identity and password of someone else for access.
  • Causing congestion on the network by such things as the propagation of "chain letters" or "broadcasting" inappropriate messages to lists or individuals.
  • Reproducing or distributing copyrighted materials without appropriate authorization.
  • Accessing, copying or modifying e-mail or other files without authorization.
  • Interfering with or disrupting the work of another, such as through propagation of computer worms or viruses and/or unauthorized entry to computing and networking resources or facilities.

Read the full Colorado State University E-mail Policy & Information.

More on the Colorado State University Information Technology Executive Committee.

Open Records Act and FERPA training Aug. 6

Interested in learning more about laws regulating campus records and privacy? An informational meeting on Aug. 6, hosted by CSU's Office of General Counsel, will familiarize managers, supervisors, and other leaders with the Open Records Act and FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.