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Angry UEA Students Criticise University After Confidential Data Leak

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

Students dismayed after personal information is sent to over 300 colleagues

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has apologised after extremely sensitive student data was leaked to hundreds of undergraduates.

A member of staff “mistakenly” emailed a spreadsheet containing confidential information related to reasons students had given as extenuating circumstances, which included details of family bereavements and mental health problems.

The email was sent to 320 American Studies students and revealed the names and university IDs of around 40 students from the School of Art, Media and American Studies (AMA).

UEA

Data leak

The reasons listed on the spreadsheet are submitted when students require extensions on coursework and are, by their nature, for extremely personal issues such as anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or serious family illnesses.

Universities are trusted to deal with this information in a discrete and sensitive manner and UAE has launched an “urgent inquiry” to find out exactly how the leak occurred.

The Norwich-based university also tweeted an apology, saying: “UEA apologises unreservedly for email sent in error to 320 American Studies students. Affected students can call 01603 592761 for support.”

However, the students affected and many others have responded furiously to the leak. “I felt sick at seeing my personal situation written in a spreadsheet, and then seemingly sent to everyone on my course,” said Megan Baynes, studying American literature with creative writing at UAE.

“My situation was not the worst on there but there are some on there that are so personal. There are people I know and I feel so awful for them and can’t imagine how they are feeling.”

Other students have posted angry replies to UAE’s twitter account, chastising the university for its poor response to the breach and a seeming lack of empathy towards those affected. “This isn’t good enough,” wrote one user.

UAE can also expect to face the wrath of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which has already shown that it is not afraid to dish out financial penalties to organisations that breach data protection regulations.

Quiz: Are you a privacy expert?