Privacy controversy mars Google Apps rollout at Canadian university

07 Nov Privacy controversy mars Google Apps rollout at Canadian university

For Andrew Brigham, Google’s offer to host Lakehead University’s e-mail system was almost too good to be true. The network administrator for the Thunderbay, Ont.-based university had been struggling with a patchwork of legacy systems and spending half his time just to keep e-mails flowing amongst faculty, students and alumni. When the university finally decided to find a new system to bring together the e-mail servers, many options cost millions of dollars to support the 60,000 users. Then Google came along with its new Google Apps Education Edition and offered to do it all for free. “Administrators don’t like hearing ‘free’,” Brigham says. “It’s hard to get over, because there’s always a catch.” But after thorough review, Brigham and his team decided to do the deal and become the first Canadian school to use Google’s services. It took just 16 hours of staff time to put the system in place. Since going live in November 2006 the hosted service has run seamlessly and freed IT staff up to work on other projects. The catch came from a non-technical point. Lakehead faculty became concerned with their “@lakeheadu.ca” accounts being hosted by a U.S.-based company that would be subject to the U.S. Patriot Act. The anti-terrorism legislation gives the American government great powers to seize data at a whim and can prevent the user from ever knowing they are under investigation. Despite privacy watchdogs saying there is limited threat from the Act, the legislation has still been an obstacle for Google in selling their educational service abroad. Last March, Lakehead faculty entered into arbitration with the university. At the heart of the issue was a perceived threat to academic freedom, says Jim Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers and lawyer representing the Lakehead faculty.

IT Business, Canada, By Brian Jackson, November 7, 2008