Privacy and Final Exam Signing Sheets (14 March 2014)

For at least the past eight years, Carleton has been wantonly breaching the confidentiality of its students by requiring them to fill in final exam signing sheets, one of which is attached below. An invigilator walks around the room with these signing sheets thirty minutes after the start of each final exam. Each student has to write their name, ID number, and signature. The invigilator repeats this with each student until the signing sheet is filled with information for thirty students. Then additional signing sheets are used for additional students until all students have signed.

The problem is that students get to see the name, ID number, and signature of all students who signed before them. The thirtieth student gets the confidential information of all twenty-nine students that preceded them. This makes a mockery of the rule (actually law in FIPPA) that renders students’ names and ID numbers private. I am not sure whether signatures are also supposed to be kept private.

Since fall 2008, I have regularly raised this issue with the office of the dean of science and the associate vice president of finance & administration for institutional research and planning (OIRP). On some occasions, I copied in the provost and have also broached this matter with the chair of the board of governors. Each time, I was told that a fix was imminent, being told that OIRP and exam services would be purchasing ID card readers or that the assistant dean of science was working on a different card scanning system. After five years, none of these alternatives have materialized. Therefore information on ten of thousands of Carleton students’ identities has been knowingly compromised.

Carleton has at least instituted a policy that instructors can request that each student receive and sign their own signing sheet. This would eliminate the breach of privacy issues if it were instituted in all classes or the option was given to all students. The problem is that only instructors (not students) are given this option of individual signing sheets.

In December 2011 and December 2013, I queried Carleton’s office of legal counsel about this matter because they have cognizance over FIPPA matters. On 7 January 2014 Rob Moher replied that (somehow) the signing sheets are legal and do not breach privacy of students vis-à-vis FIPPA. Unfortunately, I cannot include their written decision in this blog because the decision was marked “privileged and confidential”. The Orwellian irony here is that student information is deemed to be neither privileged nor confidential in a written decision that is itself privileged and confidential (folks at CSEC, CSIS, GCHQ, NSA, CIA, and especially OLC would be proud). Carleton students deserve better.

I have been trying to solve this problem quietly and internally for over five years, but to no avail. Therefore, today I am going public with this matter and ask for your help. Maybe together we can start restoring students’ confidentiality during the April 2014 final exam period. Thank you.


  1. Andrew Robinson said:

    A practical solution might be to have a mandatory student signature and student number on their exam papers, but not on the tally sheet. I’m afraid that individual tally sheets for my large classes would submerge me in yet more paper. A scanning system would be cumbersome, particularly as many students do not use their student card for ID but rely on other forms of photo ID.

    • Changing the requirement to only report the last four digits of the student number was a good start. But this change was only implemented after I publicly complained about this matter.

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