Calendar A-Z Index School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Using PII Safely

If you need PII how to go about utilizing the data safely, securing your PII and guidelines for handling PII.

Surveys

SAS Computing heard from many faculty in the school that they had a need to conduct secure, online surveys for their research. Many faculty use third-party click-through sites like SurveyMonkey for this purpose. It's free to all faculty and staff and provides all of the functionality of SurveyMonkey (including some things that are not free on SurveyMonkey).

In order to provide a secure online-survey application with contractual protections for data and subjects, SAS has licensed Qualtrics for use by all SAS faculty, staff, and students.

Government requests

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Sharing Access to PII with Students

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Research and PII

If your research involves humans, it very likely has to deal with PII in one way or another.

If you need to pay your subjects, you may need to collect their Social Security Number (SSN). Penn's Social Security Number Policy has very clear guidelines on how you must protect SSN's. Working closely with your Regional Business Office you should develop a procedure that eliminates the need for you or your lab to keep or transmit these SSN's.

Outside Services

Many times when a new project is getting off the ground the quickest and cheapest solution may seem to call for the use of prepackaged services provided by third-party vendors. This might mean using a web application like Dropbox to share your data, or hiring a web-hosting company to serve your web pages.

Many of these services are free or very cheap, and therefore very tempting. They are also in wide use, so you will almost surely have a colleague that recommends their use. There are, however, a couple of things to keep in mind before starting to use one of these services.

Collaboration and PII

Just because you need to share documents with a colleague for work on a project or something else, doesn't mean that your only choice is to send everything insecurely over e-mail. There are a lot of other options, depending on the nature of the collaboration.


  • If you are working with colleagues within SAS, SAS Computing can help you setup a shared network drive for collaboration. Please contact your Local Support Provider (LSP), for help with requesting a shared network drive.

My Work Requires PII

If your work requires that you use and store PII, then one of the best things you can do to ensure that your data handling is safe and secure is to do a SPIA assessment with your LSP. If you have already done so, great! You've taken an important step towards improving the information security in your work environment.

Using PII Safely

We all know that we'll never eliminate the need for the collection and use of Personally Identifiable Information at Penn. It's a byproduct of our teaching and research mission that this kind of data is created, collected, and stored.

That's why Penn has many resources, including this website, to help you better protect the data you do need to collect and share.

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