Email Redaction in Schools and Educational Institutions

Email Redaction in Schools and Educational Institutions

As emails communication is being used in schools and educational institutions more than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that these organizations have the tools they need to effectively redact personal and sensitive information from the public. What’s more, as these establishments obviously include minors, the need to efficiently safeguard their privacy is even more pronounced. While this process can still be done manually through programs like Adobe, there are now automatic redaction software options that will do the same process in a matter of minutes. Moreover, email redaction software is now commercially available to consumers in a way this has never been before.

Education and Email Redaction

To give an example of students’ privacy being invaded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chesterfield County Public School system in Virginia inadvertently released the information of all students and faculty members who had reported as testing positive for the virus. Local Chesterfield resident Grace Olsen, the mother of a CCPS student, requested information concerning the number of students who had been required to quarantine as a result of the virus. The CCPS complied with Olsen’s request, and sent her an email with all of the names of the students redacted. However, when Olsen attempted to transfer the data into the email into an excel to better manage the information, she discovered the personal details of over 1000 CCPS students and faculty members.

While a mother requesting information on the quarantine status of children at her child’s local school may not come across as being potentially harmful, the actions of the CCPS violated several compliance regulations and flaws. Firstly, as the personal information of children was obviously detailed in the emails, their information being ineffectively redacted violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA. FERPA is a federal law geared toward protecting the privacy of student education records. Under FERPA, only parents are given the right to access the educational records of their respective children. What’s more, these rights extend to the students themselves once they reach the age of 18.

Conversely, the actions of the CCPS also violated the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. FOIA is a federal law that ensures that citizens and media members have “ready access to records in the custody of public officials and free entry to meetings of public bodies wherein the business of the people is being transacted.” However, there is a list of records that are not allowed to be released to the public under FOIA, including educational records and personally identifiable information relating to individuals. Furthermore, many states have adopted their own version of FOIA, including the state of Virginia.

In what seemed to be a school system fulfilling the request of a concerned parent quickly turned into a situation with longstanding legal, moral, and financial implications. As Grace Olsen opted to destroy the emails that she had been mistakenly sent and reported the incident to the attorney for the CCPS, further tragedy was able to be averted. Nevertheless, her personal mishandling of these emails could have put the lives of students and staff members at risk. Beyond any moral objections, the CCPS will face also potential fines and violations as a result of their mishandling of personal information.

Bulk Email Redaction Example

Using Artificial Intelligence for redaction will let you analyze and redact all private and sensitive information from thousands of emails in minutes, it will save a lot of time, money, and effort. Watch the video below to see how it works

The case of Grace Olsen and the Chesterfield County Public School system illustrates the need for effective and efficient email redaction software. While the school district believed that they had completely redacted all information from the correspondence they sent her, Olsen was still able to access the student’s information on her own accord. Additionally, Olsen was able to do this unintentionally and with minimal effort, leaving room for imagination as to what someone with more devious or nefarious intentions would be able to do. As most redaction software offerings do not offer email redaction services at all, it is imperative that schools opt for a solution that can handle any and all requests that may be made. Without proper redaction software, the identities of children and staff members will never be completely protected in the midst of our digital age.

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