Appropriate Use of Electronic Resources
The University is committed to ensuring open discourse and the free expression of viewpoints and beliefs.
This commitment includes ensuring that academic dialogue is free from unwarranted institutional
intrusion and oversight. With the values of open discourse and institutional restraint as guideposts, the
purpose of this University-wide policy is to articulate and promote the ethical, legal, and secure use of
information technology by all members of the Northwestern community and to confirm the University’s
responsibilities in connection with accessing such information. This policy establishes essential
guidelines, protocols, and standards of behavior for the use of Electronic Resources at Northwestern. It
applies to all (i) computing and networking equipment owned, leased, or operated by Northwestern; (ii)
software owned, leased, operated, or contracted by Northwestern or for use for Northwestern business;
and (iii) other devices where University Information is present, regardless of ownership.
For purposes of this policy, the terms Electronic Resources, University Information, and System User
have the meanings defined below.
Northwestern makes available Electronic Resources to community members so that they can share and
store knowledge, communicate, and conduct business in support of the University’s mission. The
University is committed to maintaining an environment in which academic freedom thrives. At the same
time, the University needs to ensure the security and stability of the Electronic Resources it makes
available to community members. This policy identifies the general circumstances under which
University Information may be accessed or disclosed. Approval for access to a System User’s information
is guided by the following six principles:
- Access should occur only for a legitimate University purpose.
- Access should be authorized only by appropriate and accountable people.
- Notice of access should be given to affected System Users, except in cases where access cannot
be disclosed for legal or investigatory purposes or when access is incidental to routine IT
procedures in support of University network and computing resources.
- Access should be limited to the University Information needed to accomplish the purpose.
- Sufficient records should be kept to enable appropriate review of compliance with this policy.
- The Policy Review Committee should evaluate the policy and anonymized reports regarding
access on a periodic basis.
Any individual using Electronic Resources, including but not limited to faculty, staff, undergraduate and
graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, retirees, researchers, alumni, contractors, vendors, volunteers,
Electronic Resources: computing and telecommunications devices and systems that can execute programs
or access, store, or transmit University Information. Examples of Electronic Resources may include but
are not limited to computers, servers, networks, mobile computing devices, smartphones, storage devices
(USB or otherwise connected); software owned, leased, operated, or contracted by Northwestern or for
use for Northwestern business; email; and personally-owned resources used for University business.
System User: any individual accessing Electronic Resources.
University Information: any data, information, or business records created, processed, or stored on,
transmitted through, or otherwise traversing the University network.
1.1. Northwestern’s Electronic Resources are intended primarily for the execution of University
business. Northwestern strives to ensure the integrity of individual and institutional information
stored in its systems. The University reserves the right to examine, capture, archive, and
otherwise preserve or inspect any data or information related to Electronic Resources that is
either transferred over University networks or systems, created or stored on University-owned
equipment, or created or stored on personally-owned resources when used for University
1.2. Northwestern community members with access to Electronic Resources are expected to respect
the privacy of the individuals whose information they access and to use reasonable and prudent
methods to preserve the integrity and privacy of the accessed information to the extent possible.
Community members with access to Electronic Resources are prohibited from using or
disclosing that information for any purpose except in the course of University business with
those who have a need to know, and they shall take necessary precautions to protect the
confidentiality of personal information. Specific standards containing Information Privacy and
Security requirements are located on NUIT’s Information Security Office website.
1.3. Although the University does not routinely monitor the information content exchanged or
stored on its systems, users should be aware that the University retains the right to access
Electronic Resources when necessary and appropriate in light of the six principles mentioned
above in the Purpose section. The content of user files, electronic mail, and network
transmissions will not be viewed, monitored, altered, or disclosed except where:
1.3.1. required by law, regulation, policy, rule, court order, or subpoena;
1.3.2. required for a governmental, civil, and/or criminal investigation;
1.3.3. there is a well-defined and documented University mission-related need for
information, including, but not limited to: (a) conducting University investigations of
alleged violations of law, policy, academic dishonesty or research integrity; (b)
conducting internal audits; or (c) where such information is necessary to meet the
university’s teaching, research, administrative and/or compliance obligations and where
such access is limited to the information needed to accomplish the purpose.
1.3.4. there is a credible allegation or actual evidence of a violation of University policy
and/or state or federal law; or
1.3.5. IT procedures in support of University network and computing resources result in
incidental exposure to file details and content. IT personnel will not intentionally
access, review, or disclose file details or contents not related to such support
1.4. The University will notify System Users when it is necessary to access Electronic Resources,
except for IT procedures in support of University network and computing resources or in
limited circumstances where it is prohibited by law, regulation, subpoena, or where notification
would impede an investigation. Personnel requesting access to Electronic Resources will be
responsible for notifying System Users.
1.5. Approval for access to Electronic Resources and information must be obtained and documented
as follows, except for IT procedures in support of University network and computing resources
or where the government or other authority does not allow for such disclosure:
1.5.1. Academic Appointees: approval must come from designees in the Office of the Provost
and the Office of General Counsel
1.5.2. Staff (except postdoctoral trainees): approval must come from designees in the Office
of Human Resources and the Office of General Counsel
1.5.3. Postdoctoral trainees: approval must come from designees in the Office of Human
Resources (in consultation with the Graduate School, where necessary) and the Office
of General Counsel
1.5.4. Graduate Students: approval must come from designees in the Graduate School and the
Office of General Counsel
1.5.5. Undergraduate Students: approval must come from designees in the Student Affairs
Division and the Office of General Counsel
1.5.6. Alumni: approval must come from designees in the Alumni Relations and
Development and the Office of General Counsel
1.5.7. All Others: approval must come from designees in the Office of General Counsel
Approval for access to a System User’s information is guided by the six principles mentioned
in the Purpose section.
The Office of General Counsel Will be responsible for retaining the requests and approvals
pursuant to the University’s Record Retention Policy.
2. Personal Usage Policy
2.1. Northwestern provides Electronic Resources to enable individuals with academic, research, and
administrative appointments and students in good standing to accomplish work that serves the
mission of the University. Upon request, alumni are provided access to University email for
The University will consider community members’ rights to free expression and academic
freedom when determining whether personal use of Electronic Resources is permissible.
2.2. Incidental personal use of Electronic Resources is permitted, so long as the use:
2.2.1. does not adversely affect the performance of the individual’s official duties or the
2.2.2. is not disruptive to and does not adversely affect others;
2.2.3. does not create a conflict of interest or commitment for the individual or the University;
2.2.4. does not constitute illegal or prohibited activity, including the prohibited activities
referenced in Section 3 below.
3. Prohibited Activities
Northwestern welcomes the expression of ideas, including viewpoints that may be considered
unorthodox or unpopular. However, community members may not violate any laws or University
policies through the use of Electronic Resources. In particular, community members are prohibited
from engaging in the activities described below. The University will consider community members’
rights to free expression and academic freedom when investigating reports of suspected prohibited
3.1 Unauthorized Access. Individuals with authorized access to University systems may not
intentionally provide information or access to technology resources to anyone who is not
authorized, seek information for which they are not authorized, assist others in doing so,
attempt to subvert or circumvent any University systems’ security measures (e.g. sharing
passwords), or use Electronic Resources to subvert or circumvent any other systems’
security measures for any purpose.
3.2 Obstructing Access or Damaging Resources. System Users may not engage in any activity
that intentionally disrupts or damages software, hardware, or other resources belonging to
the University or compromise the ability of others to use such resources.
3.3 Inappropriate Use. System Users may not use Electronic Resources to engage in copying
or distribution of software or digital content; phishing; circulating spam; etc. that violates
the law or terms of a University license agreement.
3.4 Violation of Law or Other Northwestern Policies. System Users may not use Northwestern
Electronic Resources in a manner that violates the law or other University policies,
including but not limited to policies on Minors at Northwestern, Sexual Misconduct,
Discrimination and Harassment, and Civility and Mutual Respect.
4. Reporting; Protection against Retaliation
Any community member who has observed, has knowledge of, or has been the victim of any
improper or prohibited use of Northwestern’s Electronic Resources is encouraged to report such
activity by contacting the NUIT Information Security Office (see “Contacts” below for additional
Northwestern community members who prefer to report anonymously may do so by utilizing
EthicsPoint, the University’s phone- and web-based system for confidential reporting of suspected
The University’s Policy on Non-Retaliation prohibits retaliation against any member of the
Northwestern community for acting, in good faith, to report suspected improper or prohibited use of
Electronic Resources, to assist another in reporting, or to participate in the investigation of a report.
Consequences of Violating this Policy
Administrators of Northwestern’s Electronic Resources may restrict or refuse access privileges to
individuals who violate this policy.
Individuals who are found to have engaged in prohibited activities under this policy may be subject to
discipline under University policies and procedures (including the code of conduct and handbooks
referenced below), up to and including termination of employment or academic dismissal. Additionally,
the University may contact the appropriate governmental authority when notified of suspected violations
of federal, state, or local laws or regulations.
- University Policies
- Civility and Mutual Respect
- Discrimination and Harassment
- Minors at Northwestern
- Sexual Misconduct
- Northwestern Faculty Handbook
- Northwestern Staff Handbook
- Northwestern Student Handbook
- NUIT Information Security Office website
The following office can address questions regarding this Policy:
Information Security Office, NUIT
To report violations of this policy or other improper use of Northwestern’s Electronic Resources, contact
the NUIT Information Security Office at the phone number or email address listed above, or call (847)
The following individuals can address questions regarding approvals for access:
Andrea Bueschel Office of the Provost (847) 491-6699
Stephanie Griffin Human Resources (847) 467-0438
Julie Payne-Kirchmeier Student Affairs (847) 467-2779
Karyn Reif Alumni Relations (847) 467-7129
Sergey Kucherenko The Graduate School
Priya Harjani Office of General Counsel (847) 491-5573
New policy effective September 1, 2019.
This policy supersedes the following University Policies:
- Privacy within the Northwestern Network (originally issued in December 2002 and revised in
2003 and 2012).
- Prohibited Use of Electronic Resources for Threats, Harassment, and Pornography (originally
issued in June 2010).
- Rights and Responsibilities for the Use of Central Network and Computing Resources (originally
issued in June 2003 and revised in 2008 and 2012).
Important DatesApproving University Officials: Provost, Senior Vice
President for Business and Finance
Responsible Office: NUIT Information Security Office
Effective Date: September 1, 2019
Next review Date: September 1, 2020