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One Step Ahead

November 22, 2011, Volume 58, No. 13

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Is it Okay to Outsource Penn Data?

At Penn and everywhere, there is a growing interest in hiring vendors with specialized expertise to help us successfully deliver services. And sometimes, that means allowing those vendors to access institutional data, including personal information of students, faculty, staff, alumni and others. So, is it okay to let a third party use Penn data as part of an outsourcing arrangement? The answer is . . . you guessed it . . . it depends.

In general, from a privacy and security perspective, you may share Penn data with approved vendors if:

1. Any compliance issues have been considered and appropriately addressed. Some compliance issues arise based on federal privacy laws such as HIPAA for health data and FERPA for student records. In such cases, it is critical to include specific language and protections in the contract with the vendor and have the vendor understand the requirements and agree to them. Some compliance issues arise based on funding requirements—make sure you are aware of any restrictions in any sponsored research for example and abide by them.

2. There are strong privacy and security protections in the agreement.  Regardless of compliance issues, when confidential Penn data is involved, the vendor must agree to baseline strong privacy and security language. Often this is accomplished through Penn’s Purchase Order Terms and Conditions, which incorporate—via Exhibit A—such language. In some cases, it is advisable to include that language—and add to it—in the agreement itself.

3. There has been due diligence regarding the privacy and security practices of the vendor. For the most sensitive data, you may wish to ask the company to provide an external certification of a strong security environment for example.  For less sensitive data, a less demanding review is often acceptable.  

4. Other significant privacy and security risks have been considered and appropriately addressed. For example, is the amount and type of information being shared limited to what is necessary? Are there marketing issues that may cause concern?

Penn’s Office of Information Security and Privacy Office have produced guidance and tools on this topic, including:

• Guidance on Cloud Computing: Opportunities Used Safely

•  Data Sensitivity and Review Framework

•  SPIA for Vendors

Visit www.upenn.edu/computing/security/cloud/index.html for these materials. 

Our offices are also available to assist in the process of evaluating vendor privacy and security practices and to work with the Office of General Counsel and Purchasing Services for assistance with contracts. Contact security@isc.upenn.edu or privacy@upenn.edu

You have asked the right question (see title of this tip!). Penn has tools and resources to assist in the answer. Take the time and get the comfort that you are doing what is right—and sleep better at night.  

Almanac - November 22, 2011, Volume 58, No. 13