Does the University of Rochester own the data on the computers in the UR, or is data on a computer the property of the person who owns the particular computer, or is it the property of the person who created it?
In the corporate world, it is the corporation that owns the data, and there are in fact test cases in the legal system that show this ownership even extends to an individual's email files. In a university setting, it is less clear that the university owns all the data. This definition of ownership is of course subject to any intellectual property agreements you may have signed.
We prefer to honor private ownership where possible, especially for email and for files contained within a person's home directory. Material kept in a research group's storage area is more problematic; that space is clearly intended to hold materials belonging to a research group or project. Yet UNIX requires that the file be owned by an individual. We are occasionally asked by a faculty member of other member of a research group to change the ownership of a file or files from one user to another. We will not do this without the explicit permission of the person currently owning those files. We (the systems staff) recommend that a research project have all members sign an agreement as to disposition of files within certain areas on the disk. These agreements should protect the individual's privacy and rights, and should also ensure that the research group has appropriate access to files and data meant for the group.
Our interpretation of the law is that we, and the HSEAS, and the UR, could be subject to civil and criminal prosecution if we simply changed permissions (to a more liberal setting) or changed ownership of a file without the permission of the nominal owner.