Acceptable use of computer facilities, email and the internet

The University has published guidance on the acceptable use by staff of University computing facilities. The full text of the guidance was published in Reporter, 2001–02, pp 865–868. The guidance is intended to support the use of computers by staff in their work, and to protect both individual members of staff and their work, and the University, its systems and its resources. This document summarises the guidance.

General

  • You may make reasonable personal use of computing facilities provided by the University. This personal use should not interfere with the performance of your duties or cause any damage or difficulty to computers or to networks, or any difficulty or distress to others.
  • You should use computing facilities in a reasonable manner. You should not install inappropriate software and you should not reconfigure any machine you have access to against the advice of the appropriate authorized officer. If in doubt you should seek the advice of the appropriate authorized officer.
  • You may not make substantial use of the University's IT facilities for private financial gain or for commercial purposes outside the scope of official duties or functions without specific authorization to do so.

Internet usage (including e-mail, the Web, chatrooms)

  • You may make reasonable use of the Web for other than strictly work purposes provided it does not adversely affect your work and the work of others and has a minimal effect on the University's resources.
  • You may make reasonable use of University facilities for personal e-mails, provided that this does not have more than a minimal impact on resources and does not adversely affect your work or the work of others.
  • If an e-mail message is personal, you may wish to make this clear by using the word ‘personal’ in the subject line.
  • When you send e-mail, you should remember the following:
    1. An e-mail message is legally equivalent to a letter. E-mail messages can be defamatory and can form contracts. For these reasons it is important to take the same care composing e-mail messages as letters.
    2. E-mail messages, like other documents, can be disclosed to the person they are about under the Data Protection Act and in the event of legal proceedings.
    3. Messages may be seen by system managers and other IT support staff, just as postcards may be seen by postal workers. Moreover, the University cannot guarantee that communications will not be accessed illicitly.

Security and protection of information

The University has published its Information Data Security policy (Reporter, 7 August 2002, pp 1295–1299). The main points to be aware of in the context of computer use are:

  • You should guard confidential material and personal information by the proper use of passwords and other security measures.
  • Not all computer systems are suitable for the storage of confidential information. You can get advice on this from the appropriate authorized officer.
  • You can protect highly sensitive material through the use of encryption. Your local computing staff can advise you on this.
  • You must not disclose passwords or other access codes to other persons.
  • You must comply with the Data Protection Act, which requires that the University keeps personal information secure.
  • When working with confidential information, you must take care not to leave it inappropriately on screen. You should not leave your computer logged on when unattended, unless it is in a secure location.
  • You should observe the same standards of confidentiality for electronically held or generated information as for information held on paper.

If you have a concern about the inadequate protection of data, you should inform your Head of Institution or the University Data Protection Officer so that any necessary steps can be taken to safeguard the data.

All members of staff have an obligation to protect data and systems by following up-to-date recommendations to avoid damage from viruses and other malicious programs. You can get advice from the Computing Service and from Computer Officers in your institution.

Misuse of computing facilities

As stated above, the University permits reasonable personal as well as professional use of computing facilities. You should be careful not to misuse these facilities, for instance by:

  • Hacking — attempting to access systems or information within or outside the University without authority, or encouraging others to do so.
  • Deliberately accessing from the Internet material which is counter either to legislation, University rules or policies (e.g. equal opportunities) or to commonly accepted standards, or is likely to be offensive to reasonable people. Members of staff may access this kind of material only for bona fide academic purposes. However, accidental access to such sites can take place; if you are concerned that such accidental access has taken place you may wish to report your concerns to an appropriate person.
  • E-mail communications which constitute bullying or harassment, as defined in the University's code of advice and instructions on bullying and harassment (the ‘yellow booklet’).

Investigation of misuse and interception

The University needs procedures in order to be able to investigate any suspected misuse of computing facilities. Investigators may need to inspect any files held on any of the University's computing systems. These procedures will be applied infrequently and in a strictly controlled manner. Where inspection is deemed to be necessary, the Head of the Institution or authorized officer shall give permission for such access. The Registrary or the Academic Secretary, as appropriate, must be informed within 48 hours of any such action. Access will only be allowable in so far as it is necessary for the University to comply with national legislation, e.g. the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Lawful Business Practice Regulations or in connection with the investigation of misuse, examples of which are listed above, and will be initiated in accordance with the provisions of that legislation and to the extent permitted by data protection and human rights legislation and by general principles of employment law.

If there is a need to access files, the individual member of staff will normally be asked for his/her consent; however in certain circumstances it may exceptionally be necessary to obtain access without consent,

  1. if urgent access is critically required for operational purposes but the member of staff is absent and cannot be contacted,
  2. if there is prima facie evidence that a member of staff may be misusing facilities to an extent which would be considered serious or gross misconduct or if there is a need to initiate an investigation and there is a serious possibility that evidence might be destroyed.

The procedures set out above will be used only where there is an urgent operational need and the member of staff cannot be contacted or where there is prima facie reason to believe that misuse may have occurred. The privacy of individuals will be respected in other situations, and that privacy will be protected especially in connection with the areas defined in the Introduction. In the case of e-mail, normally subject headings only will be scanned, and the content of the messages will be read only where (in connection with item (i)) it is established that the message is one sent or received as part of the individual's duties as a member of staff or (ii) a prima facie case of misuse has already been established. While strict application of this principle cannot be guaranteed for arbitrary files (i.e., computer files other than e-mail) it will be used as a guide.

As part of normal procedures, computers linked to networks may be scanned automatically for vulnerability and a Head of Institution may authorize the routine monitoring of Internet access generally, including e-mail traffic volume (but not content), within their local area networks.

In addition to the guidance listed above, detailed rules and guidance have been issued by the Information Strategy and Services Syndicate (ISSS).

Misuse and disciplinary action

The Head of the Institution should decide in the light of the outcome of an investigation of possible misuse of computing facilities whether disciplinary action is appropriate, and if it is judged appropriate, instigate necessary action in accordance with the relevant disciplinary procedures concerned.

Heads of Institutions should consult with the relevant HR Consultant before instigating any disciplinary action against a member of staff.