Guarding Privacy

Video transcript

Electronic Identity

If you are reading this, you have an electronic identity.

What is an "electronic identity" anyway?

As you are no doubt already aware, in order to travel from one country to another you must carry a passport. The purpose of a passport is to identify both you and your country of origin. Also, by recording information from your passport, the countries you visit can gather statistics about you. Since your passport can be traced to you, it serves as a "paper identity".

Moving from country-to-country, city-to-city, or even room-to-room in the virtual world of computer networks, involves the logging of information associated with your activities. By correlating the various pieces of information associated with your network activities, a surprising degree of individual identification can be achieved. Despite the perception of "anonymity" as you virtually travel via the Internet and computer networks, you leave pieces of "electronic DNA" behind. This "electronic DNA" in the hands of the right individuals can be traced back to the ID you used to access the network in the first place.

Why should I care about my electronic identity?

A couple of reasons come to mind. Firstly, since you are using University of Western Ontario network resources to virtually travel from place to place, your electronic identity uses an electronic passport that indicates your country of origin as UWO. Therefore, the actions you take, while travelling virtually, reflect both on UWO, as an organization, and on you, as an individual.

Secondly, the ability to be anonymous, presents an opportunity for individuals to state opinions, or conduct themselves differently with the understanding that the opinions/activities cannot be traced back to them. The introduction of electronic identities and electronic DNA eliminate the concept of anonymity.

Are there other issues to be aware of?

There are two other issues to consider - identity theft and privacy.

In general, in addition to the various pieces of electronic DNA such as your computer network address, the browser will contain additional information about your identity. All this information is tied to your electronic identity, that is, what username and password you used to access the network in the first place. If for any reason someone else is given or discovers your username and password, they can steal your electronic identity and gain access to services, privileges, and information, as if they were you. This highlights the importance of safeguarding passwords, PIN numbers and identifying information (e.g. username, credit card numbers, employee/student numbers, etc.) as carefully as you can.

From a privacy perspective, you should be aware that many web sites on the Internet can take advantage of the "footprints" your electronic identity leaves behind enabling them to gather statistics about your browsing (and buying) habits. While this profiling is not inherently dangerous, it can lead to unsolicited communications such SPAM. It is definitely something you should be aware of and cautious about.

Protection of privacy at Western

As a publicly funded institution which operates with a high degree of autonomy and self-regulation, Western University affirms the importance of the principle of freedom of information and the obligation to conduct its operations as far as possible in ways that are open to public scrutiny. Also, The Western University is committed to the protection of the privacy of individuals with respect to personal information about themselves held by the University. Therefore, Western University has enacted this policy to support these principles of openness, accountability and protection. MAPP123

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