VIRGINIA — A new law thatgoes into effect Saturday in Virginia will require all colleges to turn over tostate police identifying information about the tens of thousands of students whoapply and are accepted in the state each year.
The law, signed byGov. Tim Kaine on April 19, is a comprehensive effort to regulate the activitiesof sexual offenders in the state, but it also contains a measure that saysschools must “electronically transmit“ the complete name, date ofbirth, gender and social security number “or other identifyingnumber” of each accepted applicant. State police will then compare theinformation with state and national sex offender registries. The law applies toall public and private two- and four-year institutions in thestate.
Law enforcement officials said the new law will help to makesure sex offenders’ addresses, which are published on Virginia’sSex Offender and CrimesAgainst Minors Registry, are up to date. Journalists oftentimes use the onlineregistry in their coverage of sex offenders.
Col. W. Steven Flaherty,superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said sexual offenders are requiredto inform authorities any time they change their addresses, and the new law willcrack down on those who fail to report a change of address when going tocollege.
“We’re trying to do this as seamlessly aspossible,” Flaherty said. “The only persons who will beinconvenienced are the people who don’t comply with the law. We’retrying to collect the information, and we’re working on ways to transmitthe information so that it will affect the individuals, the schools and statepolice as little as possible.”
The law is a product of ayearlong study on sex offenders conducted by the Virginia Crime Commission. Thelaw is designed to ensure public safety, specifically for students on collegecampuses.
Proponents of the law say it will crack down on sexoffenders who fail to report their locations to state police, but some privacyexperts, including Michael Froomkin, a law professor and privacy specialist fromthe University of Miami, say that it violates the privacy rights of manyinnocent students.
“There’s no question that it’san infringement on people’s privacy, and it seems to be one that’squite disproportionate to the purported benefit,” Froomkin said. “Imean certainly there would be lots of ways of achieving the same benefit withoutputting every single person trying to get a higher education in the state ofVirginia into a police database.”
Kenneth Stolle, R-VirginiaBeach, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Virginia Senate, said theinformation is not much different from that kept by most states’
Department of Motor Vehicles, and state police plan to discard the records afterthey have checked it against criminal databases.
Stolle also said hehas not heard much objection to the law, especially from those who wouldactually be affected by it.
“If you’re applying to aVirginia university, to come and mingle among young kids – and oftentimesthese schools require students to live in the dorms their first year – andthe state has information like the sex offender registry, I’m not sure whyyou wouldn’t want to make sure kids are safe at school,” Stollesaid. “I haven’t heard any college students or collegestudents’ parents complain about Virginia trying to make sure the guy nextdoor to them is not a sexual predator.”
The Virginia lawcircumvents the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which generallyprohibits educational institutions from releasing information about students,because colleges must submit information about accepted students before they areactually enrolled.
Even though FERPA does not conflict with the law,Stolle said no one outside of law enforcement agents will be allowed access tothe information.
Jeff Hanna, a spokesman for the University ofVirginia, said university and law enforcement officials are still working outthe specific procedures of how schools should submit the information.
“We do know that efforts to increase safety on campus arethings we support,” Hanna said. “… It’s the law, andwe’ll abide by thelaw.”