Anti-Terror Law Opens Student Lives To Government

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U.S. student records could be potentially seized, searched and passed on to government officials without their knowledge, after legislation diminishing student privacy became law in October.

Ten months after Sept. 11, the Patriot Act, designed to protect U.S. citizens against acts of terror, leaves students questioning their privacy.

The Patriot Act, which boosts government access to personal information to prevent terrorism, federal agents may access student records without probable cause.

"The question is, can the law go out essentially on belief?" says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Office. "Now it can. Probable cause is no longer required as long as their reason to believe is specific and articulable."

Federal agents may pull student records after obtaining a court order with certification that the information is relevant to an investigation.

"If we have a legitimate lawful reason, we will undertake all lawful steps to investigate," said Special Agent Steven Berry, an FBI spokesperson.

Student records include academic and personal progress, quantitative information such as test scores, progress reports, evaluations, family information, social security numbers, medical, parking records and other personal information.

The U.S. government also has access to student grades and social security numbers, which in the past have not been disclosed. Federal agents may also acquire student data for the purpose of statistical research under the National Education Statistics Act.

The Patriot Act amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the National Statistics Act. Before October, universities under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act were required to legally notify a student if their records were being searched unless federal authorities requested otherwise. Colleges and universities had to consent to handing over the records.

In the past, foreign students were not protected under the past privacy act and the Immigration and Naturalization Service could access their records without consent, Nassirian said.

After Sept. 11, the U.S. government accessed the records of students in particular areas of study, such as flight training, and students with certain ethnic backgrounds, from both abroad and within the United States.

As of July 11 no UC Berkeley student records have been requested by the U.S. government, said Susanna Castillo-Robson, UC Berkeley Registrar.

Although some UC Berkeley students say that government access to student records is important, others say that the act violates important student privacy measures.

Amile Mazoyer, an international UC Berkeley student from France acknowledges the need for security.

"To me what's important has changed after Sept. 11th," Mazoyer says. "Some believe that individual liberties are most important, but to me being alive is much more important."

Other students said they do not see the need for the government to have free access to to student records.

"I don't see how their accessibility to U.S. citizens' files would have an impact on the current situation basically the threat is coming from non U.S. citizens," said UC Berkeley sophomore Sanjay Dastoor. "I don't think that it's particularly appropriate for the government to look at my record without my permission."

The ACLU fears that the information requested will be transmitted through various federal agencies, putting innocent students in danger.

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Office said about 200 colleges have given student information to the FBI, INS and other government agencies.


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