1,830 students sent someone else's results

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2007, 12:00am

Polytechnic University has blamed human error for a computer mix-up which led to 1,830 students receiving other people's examination result slips via e-mail.

By the time the error was discovered and the service suspended at 8.15pm on Friday, 1,780 students had logged into their e-mail accounts.

The privacy watchdog has launched an investigation.

The university sent out e-mails via the campus e-mail system to 25,365 students between 6pm and 7.15pm on Friday. It shut down the system soon after a staff member who is also studying at the university received another person's result slip.

The e-mails list each student's name, number, study programmes and their grades for each subject. 'But they do not contain the students' identification card numbers,' said the university's academic secretary, Nancy Tong Liu Yuk-ling.

All the affected e-mails had been recalled by Sunday morning and the e-mail system was back in action 48 hours after being shut down.

The university's acting director of information technology services, Fleming Woo, said: 'We deeply regret the occurrence of this most unfortunate incident and fully recognise its seriousness.'

Senior computing officer Shirley So Yim-ling said preliminary investigations suggested human error had caused the problem.

She said she would consider notifying the students whose results were sent to other people's e-mail accounts.

Mrs Tong said an e-mail had been sent to students to explain the incident and to urge them to delete the offending e-mails to protect other people's personal information.

Mrs Tong said: 'Everyone can make mistakes ... We will do a full review of the system for distributing results slips to see if it involves too much manual operation.'

Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data Roderick Woo Bun said: 'I am very [concerned] about the management, use and release of personal data of public organisations which hold large amounts of personal data. In view of public concern about the incident, my office has commenced an investigation.'

The university said it had met staff of Mr Woo's office and would provide the commissioner with a written report within a week.

The Data Protection Ordinance says a data user shall ensure that personal data is protected against unauthorised or accidental access, processing, erasure or other use, having particular regard to the kind of data and the harm that could result if any of those things should occur.

Students' union president Yu Yiu-tung said the union had not received any complaints from students directly. 'We accept the school's apology,' he said. 'They shut down the e-mail system in an hour and have tried their best to remedy the mistake. But they should enhance their monitoring mechanism and strengthen training for the staff.'

Lawrence Chan Cheuk-him, a fourth-year major in English language teaching, said he felt awkward when he got a classmate's result slip.

'I thought it was a single incident,' he said. Mr Chan said the e-mail gave the student's grade point average and the class of honours degree he would receive.

Miss So had said earlier that the results slips did not contain students' grade point averages.

Mr Chan said the university should give an apology to each of the affected students.

F for communications

Friday, June 8

6pm University starts sending examination results to students through the campus e-mail system

7.15pm Distribution of notifications to 25,365 students is completed

7.40pm University discovers some students have received other students' results

8.15pm Campus e-mail system is shut down