Stewards at this year’s Freshers’ Fair temporarily removed the sign-up sheets of several societies whose representatives had momentarily left their stalls, citing concern for data protection and causing widespread bemusement.
In an email sent to all student stall-holders in advance of the event, OUSU had issued a warning not to leave any papers containing names or email addresses where they could be accessed by third parties. OUSU also instructed stewards to be vigilant in limiting access to Exam Schools for student stallholders without lanyards.
Consequently, stalls had to be deserted at points throughout the day, so that students could switch shifts and exchange lanyards. OUSU apparently did not anticipate that this would lead to sign-up sheets being left unattended on stalls.
The Oxford Yoga Society and Oxford Indian Dance society were among those who temporarily lost their sign-up sheets. A spokesman from the Oxford Yoga Society was characteristically even-tempered about the tightening of security regulations, saying, “It’s no big deal. It’s a sign of the times. We got the names back quite quickly at least.”
OUSU President Tom Rutland, commented, “We looked after some sign-up sheets that had been left lying around unattended during the fair, so as to ensure that people’s names and details weren’t used for any purposes other than the societies they had signed up for. As soon as stallholders who’d left sheets returned to their stalls, they would have found a card telling them where they could pick up the sheets they’d left.
“We’ve got an obligation to look after students and their personal information, and by collecting them instead of leaving them lying around, we probably also helped to ensure they weren’t lost!”
Some have criticised OUSU’s strident approach, suggesting that for the most part people’s names and addresses are in the public domain. It has been pointed out that all colleges publish lists of the names of incoming students, and that amongst Oxford students someone’s name and college furnishes enough information to work out their email address.
Eleanor Franzen, a veteran stallholder with four years of experience, said, “If I really wanted to find victims to mail spam to, I probably wouldn’t stalk the corridors of Exam Schools on the lookout for abandoned stalls and then spend ages deciphering the overexcited scrawl common to all freshers. I’d probably just get their contact details off the internet. But then, maybe I’m missing out on all the fun.”
This is not the first time OUSU’s enthusiasm for bureaucracy has raised eyebrows. At the 2009 Freshers’ air, satirical leaflets distributed by student publication ‘The Oxymoron’ were confiscated and banned, amid fears that freshers would not understand the irony.