Ontario's Lakehead University can switch e-mail to Gmail: arbitrator
A Canadian labour arbitrator has ruled that Lakehead University can outsource its email system from an internal system to Google's Gmail (coverage from the Chronicle of Higher Education; note that I served as an expert witness in the case). The Lakehead University Faculty Association (LUFA) argued that Lakehead violated the privacy rights and academic freedom of its members in making the switch to Gmail. LUFA maintained that the switch raised concerns about the prospect of surveillance by U.S. authorities under laws such as the USA Patriot Act. The arbitrator dismissed the claim, arguing that the collective agreement did not create an obligation to provide an email system nor guarantee absolute privacy. The arbitrator concludes:
While I am sympathetic to their plight and the fact that big brother could be watching over their e-mail communications, it simply brings to the fore the caution advanced by Mr. Pawlowski when he commented upon e-mail systems generally before the Senate. One should consider e-mail communications as confidential as are postcards.
Michael Geist is a law professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.