The use of email at Lancaster is ubiquitous. The convenience of use has its drawbacks and can lead to accidental and sometimes forced disclosure of information. There are a rising number of incidents where email disclosures have brought reputational damage to universities, including breaches of the eight principles of the Data Protection Act.
The following guidance is therefore being issued as a reminder of the major pitfalls and limitations of using email. It reiterates the salient points from the Governance and Planning advice on Email Management which contains further information and guidelines.
- Warnings for Email Users:
- Emails have the same weight of evidence as other types of written communication. Do not type anything which you would not be comfortable printing onto University letterhead as in the eyes of the law there is no difference.
- Emails sent using University systems belong to the University and not to you as an individual.
- Emails are legally enforceable. If you 'informally' agree to do something by email or use email to request goods or services, the email constitutes a contract.
- Because email has the same legal status as a signed document on University letterhead, email exchanges for contractual discussions must be managed carefully, to ensure that there is a clear distinction between negotiating the terms and conditions of the contract and agreeing them (and so entering into a contract).
- Emails are legally discloseable. In response to requests under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection acts, and following court orders, most information contained in email is discloseable.
- Email is insecure and easily intercepted.
- Non-Appropriate Uses of Email:
- Transferring documents: Particularly where you wish to make documents available to multiple recipients, email is not a suitable means of distribution. For each person the email is being distributed to, a copy is stored in each of their email accounts, as well as your own sent items. This is inefficient use of mailstore.
- In situations where you need to transfer documents to others: the best practice is to place the documents in a location accessible to all of your recipients, whether this is an intranet or internet site, or your departmental networked file store. You can then email your recipients with details of the location.
- Communicating about other members of staff (or students): Under the Data Protection Act, members of staff and students have a series of rights. This includes the right to access almost any information held about them by the University, including emails in which they are identified. This is a right which is increasingly being used in grievance/complaints situations. If you need to communicate potentially sensitive information (including communicating with HR), it is far more appropriate to undertake this in person & (if need be) commit summary meeting notes in your own non-work related private diary/notebook.
For further information, or if you have any questions, please visit the Governance and Planning advice on Email Management site.