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Princeton inadvertently releases information on thousands of students, faculty, staff

<h5>McCosh Health Center</h5>
<h6>Julian Gottfried / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
McCosh Health Center
Julian Gottfried / The Daily Princetonian

Private information about students, faculty, staff, and other University affiliates was inadvertently released by email to undergraduates on Thursday.

The information appeared as an attachment in a reply to a routine email updating students on when to submit COVID-19 tests after fall break. Twenty minutes later, University Health Services (UHS) followed up with a third message asking readers to “please disregard” the previous email.

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“This was sent in error,” the UHS team wrote.

The spreadsheet attached to the email contained data used by the University to track COVID-19 testing results on campus, including staff members’ employment status, employee department numbers and ID numbers, and testing status for the week, whether “active” or “suspended.”

The document did not contain vaccination status information or any records of COVID-19 test results.

Each person listed on the document was identified by their first name, last name, and email address, with employees additionally linked to their manager and that manager’s email address. While much of this contact information is publicly available on the University’s Advanced People Search and Residential College Facebook, some individuals opt to have themselves removed from these platforms.

The document’s first tab was labeled “Everyone but Students,” and contained 6,848 names, most affiliated with Human Resources or the office of the Dean of Faculty. Undergraduate and graduate students in the testing protocol were listed in separate tabs on the document, as well as employees of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and other affiliates.

A sixth tab listed 6,807 people who were marked as “inactive” in the testing protocol: a mix of off-campus individuals; those retired, on leave, or deceased; and alumni. It also noted hundreds with the affiliation status “terminated.”

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The testing protocol for the fall semester requires that all vaccinated community members who access University facilities submit a saliva test once a week and all unvaccinated community members do so twice a week.

Within specific tabs, further personal information could be obtained indirectly. Students listed as taking part in off-campus travel over break “away from Princeton Geographic Area” were noted to have a “suspended” testing status — allowing viewers to determine which students were on and off campus for Fall Break.

Several other students were noted as having a “suspended” testing status due to illness or another medical reason.

The spreadsheet also noted students’ “affiliation” status with the University, which for the vast majority of students was marked as “Active.” In a number of cases, however, students were indicated to be “Inactive,” “Prospective,” or “Applied.”

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In the case of two students — one whose status was “Inactive” and another whose status was “Applied” — the document showed that their reason for absence from the testing protocol was that they were “Not on campus.”

Also listed on the spreadsheet were 679 affiliates: University chaplains, employees of Princeton University Press, ROTC officers, and users of departmental or library computers, among others.

At 6:53 p.m., students received a follow-up email from the “UHS COVID Testing Team” asking students to delete the spreadsheet received earlier that afternoon.

“A spreadsheet containing limited information on a number of members of the University community was inadvertently distributed by email to some undergraduate students earlier today,” Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “The file does not contain information on testing compliance or personal health information, other than listing the ‘sick or other medical reason’ selection some individuals made when filling out the Testing Absence Form.”

“We’re working to understand the situation fully and determine whether additional steps are necessary,” Hotchkiss added. “We regret this error.”

This story was last updated on Thursday evening.

Marie-Rose Sheinerman is a senior writer who has reported on COVID-19 policy, faculty controversy, sexual harassment allegations, major donors, campus protests, and more. She can be reached at ms78@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @rosesheinerman. She previously served as an editor of news and features and now assists with content strategy.

Evelyn Doskoch is a Head News Editor who has reported on University affairs, COVID-19 policy, student life, sexual harassment allegations, town affairs, and eating clubs. She can be reached at edoskoch@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @EvelynDoskoch.

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