FERPA’S failures are cause for concern

Students should reevaluate how much data they share with their college.

by Luis Ruuska

A growing number of col­lege students are concerned about how col­leges are keep­ing their person­al data confiden­tial, and it’s not hard to see why.

Even before they are admit­ted to their fu­ture school, stu­dents receive requests to provide information, and this only develops throughout their college career. Earlier this month, Sen. Ed Mar­key, D-Mass., said he would intro­duce legislation to protect student privacy because of recent changes to the Family Education and Pri­vacy Act.

While FERPA is supposed to keep student information confiden­tial and secure, it’s growing out­dated because recent amendments have chipped away some of its pro­tections.

FERPA’s fundamental purpose is to allow parents and eligible stu­dents to inspect and correct inac­curate data that publicly funded colleges and universities have col­lected from them. Typically, univer­sities required students’ consent in order to release their information.

However, this information may be turned over to a number of third parties without consent, including “organizations conducting cer­tain studies for or on behalf of the school” and “appropriate parties in connection with financial aid to a student.”

Universities can disclose other information, including names, ad­dresses and telephone numbers, without consent because it’s public or directory information.

This type of loophole in FERPA powers things like the University of Minnesota’s “People Search” direc­tory. Anyone can gain access to an alarming amount of your informa­tion if they know just portions of your name or email. Although the service is convenient for students and faculty, it’s dangerous for such a breadth of information to be avail­able to the public as well.

Although lawmakers in a number of states are working to fill in FER­PA’s potholes with state privacy laws, students must ultimately decide for themselves where they draw the line in terms of the data they share.