Raymond Ford, vice-president for information technology (IT) at the University of Montana, will soon have the ability to distribute all student, staff and faculty e-mail addresses—about 15,000—with a finger-click. A new database will hold a running list of information the UM already collects like e-mail addresses, names, phone numbers, addresses and Social Security numbers.
In the past, though, someone requesting a list of e-mail addresses would be handed the campus telephone book. The new database will allow instant, electronic distribution.
“Everyone who receives spam should be concerned,” says Ford. As technology advances at UM, the potential for its abuse increases, and the more time Ford spends writing the rules that regulate it. Some rules are not up for discussion. No one gets access to the lists for commercial purposes, so ad agencies need not bother asking, says Ford. The lists can’t be sold to marketing firms.
Corporations—even ones with an “in” at the UM, like Coke—don’t get access: “I don’t care how much money they’re giving us, they didn’t buy the right to anything they didn’t have before,” says Ford. Other rules for the database are not so clearly defined. If someone approaches Ford and asks for lists in electronic form, “I think—uh-oh, you could spam everyone in about 10 minutes.” But some legitimate groups, like research groups that e-mail academic surveys, could benefit from receiving a list. Heather O’Laughlin, ASUM business manager, is the students’ voice for IT issues. Her main concern is protecting students from being bombarded with even more information than they already receive via e-mail: “I think that less is better.”
Ford is soliciting staff and student viewpoints as he writes the new policy. He asked for campus volunteers from various IT advisory committees to help him write the first draft.
“I got no volunteers,” says Ford, but “I’m not sure I wanted any.” With fewer writers to “help” him, he thinks he can draft new guidelines more quickly. Ford and his only co-writer, Stephen Henry, director of computing and information services, will have the first version of the policy ready for review and comment in the next week or two.
Ford isn’t sure what technology policies he’ll need to iron out in the future. When he looks back, though, he feels old: “At one point, we had to do the same thing with phone numbers…makes me feel like a dinosaur.”