Government bypasses FERPA to access student records

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks,the U.S. Department of Education is advising colleges and universitiesto make their student records accessible to the FBI — withoutthe fear of violating the Family Education Rights and PrivacyAct.

Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Auburn University officialsasked Registrar George Hill to provide a list of all internationalstudents and their countries of origin. In turning over 89 namesto school officials, Hill was told the university was complyingwith FBI requests, according to a Sept. 21 article in The Chronicleof Higher Education.

The article also stated that federal officials targeted anunnamed community college about the address of a Muslim student.A lawyer for the college provided the information without thestudent’s consent before or after the information was given.

Meanwhile, "in an attempt to loosen provisions set forthby FERPA, Attorney General John Ashcroft has proposed a new plangiving federal officials broad access to private student recordsif the documents could help prevent or prosecute incidents ofdomestic terrorism.

FERPA, commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, was intendedto keep colleges from releasing students’ personal informationwithout their consent. There are exceptions though, provided thereis a "health or safety emergency." In the past two weeks,federal law-enforcement officers have used that clause to gaininformation from colleges.

In normal cases, federal officials are required to use subpoenasto gain access to records. In the multiple cases reported, nosubpoenas have been used, according to the Chronicle.

House and Senate committees are expected to consider the newbill within the next few weeks. A draft of the Senate bill, authoredby Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, does not includethe provision relating to student records, a source told the Chronicle.