By Rachel Williamson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 12, 2002
Law enforcement agencies were able to access information on thousands of international UA students last fall by using health and safety exceptions and federal grand jury subpoenas to get around student privacy laws.
"There was a mad dash for (international student) information since last fall," said Sarah Kim, interim director of the Center for English as a Second Language. "But we are very clear on what we can and can't release."
Starting on Sept. 18, directory and file information on international students who attended the UA was released to the FBI.
The names a.nd home countries for all international CESL students who attended UA between 1985-1992 and fall 2000 to fall 2001 were also disclosed in the same month, excluding students from China, India, Japan, South Africa and Western Europe.
Since Sept. 11, the UA has been subpoenaed twice by an array of government agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Services and FBI.
However, law enforcement agencies sometimes request that details on the subpoenas be withheld because they could conflict with investigations, said Sharon Kha, associate vice president for communications.
Non-directory information on a former UA student from the United Arab Emirates was released to the FBI through a federal grand jury subpoena on Oct. 21.
When the FBI wants student information, a public information request goes through the registrar's office, Kha said.
When the information is gathered, the UA attorney's office reviews information requests and subpoenas to ensure that everything is public information.
Anyone in the world can access directory information found in the university Student/Faculty/Staff Directory, which has to include at least the student's name, major and class standing.
But student files ÷ private information protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ÷ can only be released with a subpoena, Kha said.
A student's hometown, transcripts or type of visa are all considered private student information.
As of last November, the UA stopped considering hometowns directory information.
Those looking to find out whether a certain student was enrolled at the UA must be able to provide a name.
But the system does not work to single out groups at the UA, Kha pointed out.
Normally no person or agency can request names or numbers of all students from Phoenix or Afghanistan without a subpoena, for example, Kha said.
Some agencies get special exemption to student privacy laws.
"If you were a law enforcement agency and it was an emergency situation where the health and safety were a qualified exemption, then we would provide you with more information," Kha said.
CESL faculty were educated about FERPA and proper legal procedures, Kim said.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service requested directory information about international students who were no-shows at CESL.
CESL reports expected international students and whether or not they arrive to INS, but does not immediately know when students have entered the country but not yet reported to UA.
An international database called the Student Exchange Visitor Information System is being improved and implemented in colleges and universities nationwide to quickly check if a student has arrived in the country.
"I have felt comfortable releasing what is requested legally," Kim said. "I've never had a feeling that the information we released was damaging anybody.