Email Security as a Board Concern: Two Views Once That Sensitive Info Gets Out There, You Can’t Take It Back

Boards need to be cognizant of the ramifications of email use and its potential pitfalls (iStock).

As we’ve recently seen in the news--from the Democratic National Committee email leaks about Bernie Sanders from last year’s presidential election, to the latest  in the Trump-Russia brouhaha--emails aren’t always the safest and securest method of communication. And once that sensitive information gets out there, you can’t take it back. So what does that mean for co-op and condo boards and their members?  Here are two perspectives.

Board Experience

Boards need to be cognizant of the ramifications of email use and its potential pitfalls.  Perhaps the most critical is the protection of confidential information, particularly purchaser packages distributed to board members for applicants seeking to buy an apartment.  These packages contain a high level of super-confidential purchaser information.

Kimberley Overs is an attorney and board member of a pre-war co-op on Manhattan’s East Side. Her co-op leverages technology to protect personal information included in purchase applications.  “We used to get physical copies of the board packages and we no longer do,” she says.   

They never used email for distribution of board packages.  “Now we access purchase applications on-line through a password protected portal provided by our managing agent,” says Overs.  “This eliminates risks associated with the distribution of hard copies by the managing agent.”

Furthermore, based on her experience as a board member, she says that email is not an appropriate channel for transmitting sensitive personal information, essentially financial information, and recommends that discussions of purchase applications should be in person or by phone. 

In general, she believes boards should make limited use of email and suggests that board members create a separate account for this purpose and avoid commingling their personal and board communications.

From a Managing Agent

Stuart Halper, president of Impact Real Estate Management, a co-op and condo management firm with offices in Manhattan, Queens, Westchester, and Long Island, has a different view.  “The way we advise our boards to distribute packages is either by PDF or paper,” he says.  “And we don’t destroy it afterward either.  I don’t have any problem with that.”  

What they do tell board members in advance is, “any discussion concerning board packages should be done, ‘in-the-room’, never by email.  We advise them that no notes should be taken either.  We also advise them as to what they can and can’t evaluate in an applicant--the obvious things, [such as] race, creed, religion, etc., that are protected classes of individuals in housing discrimination law.  We also tell them that if they don’t like somebody, if the applicant just rubs them the wrong way, that’s okay.  That’s their prerogative.”  

In general, Halper, who is also an attorney, is comfortable with the transfer of information itself through email.  He doesn’t believe a secure portal is a necessity nor does he suggest to board members that they need to set up special email accounts for board business.  “We carry cyber-theft insurance,” he says.  We have to be protected if there’s a breach, and the co-op has to be protected so we insure ourselves for this.”

The Bottom Line

Overs makes another recommendation:  “At the beginning of a new board’s term, it is extremely helpful to invite your co-op’s attorney to your board meeting to provide a primer on ‘best practices’ for board members.  Your co-op’s attorney will likely address appropriate use of email and handling personal information with care and confidentiality.”

As evident from the perspectives of these two professionals, there are different ways to approach the situation. Thus, a board can possibly best serve itself by researching the variety of options to protect its electronic data, and consulting with legal and cybersecurity experts.

AJ Sidransky is a published novelist and staff writer at The Cooperator.

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