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Issue of the Week: Background checks on international UA students

Illustration by Lauren Niedergang
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 18, 2002

In an effort to prevent future terrorist threats, federal law enforcement agencies have been requesting confidential background information on thousands of international UA students since late last year. With the exception of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, South African and Western European students, information on all international students who attended the UA from 1985 to 1992, as well as from fall 2000 to fall 2001, have been made available by UA administration.

The legal authority of the government to obtain such information is not in question. But since the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service were able to obtain these records through "health and safety exemptions," the morality behind the background checks is open for debate.

Is our government acquiring these records ethically? Or is this an example of inappropriate racial profiling?
Kendrick Wilson

Privacy has its limits when security is at stake

Students of the UA, no matter what their nationalities, should be protected from unreasonable probing into their personal information. But in a world where we know Sept. 11 can happen in America, we can't afford to be lax in our efforts to keep our country secure. Not all information can be kept private, and some information must be released to authorities.

The vast majority of foreign students are hard working, honest students who are just about the farthest cry from terrorists one could imagine. Most foreign students are simply trying to get a good education, and many are the most serious and successful students on campus.

Despite what some would have one believe, non-foreign, white students can also be terrorists. Not all terrorists are of Middle Eastern descent. For authorities to limit probes into student files of foreign students is misguided at best.

My sympathy goes out to foreign students who have been and who will be the subjects of investigations into their personal student records. But since America changed last year, we all must pay a higher price for security. If federal authorities believe it necessary to view certain student records that would otherwise be private, there is little question in my mind that it must be done.

Kendrick Wilson is a political science sophomore. He can be reached at

Jason Baran

UA should not impede legitimate investigations

The sanctity of individual privacy should not be taken lightly. There is nothing ethical or appropriate about the release of student information to private individuals.

The release of information to law enforcement agencies is a different matter. It would be inappropriate for the UA to impede legitimate investigations. The UA would have a similar duty to contest illegitimate requests.

In terms of law enforcement access to students' files, international students are in a unique situation because they are guests of the UA and of the United States. Certainly, they are welcomed guests who contribute immensely to the campus experience, but guests nonetheless. As such, information about visas and whether the students have actually reported to the UA are legitimate points of inquiry. If people come here on a student visa, it is reasonable that someone check their attendance. A failure to report to the UA after entering the country should raise flags. Moreover, someone being sought by law enforcement may be attending school and it is reasonable to make inquiries about such a student. Complying with a request for information is ethical.

The UA didn't provide unsolicited materials. If there is a question of appropriateness, the place to question it is with the requesting agencies.

Jason Baran is a public administration & policy graduate student. He can be reached at

Caitlin Hall

There's a larger problem here

The question of whether the UA did something illegal or unethical in this case is irrelevant. It complied, in the most provisional way, with an FBI subpoena. It's difficult to find fault in that.

By comparison, it is much, much easier to find fault with the actions of the FBI. Demanding information on "all" international students ÷ with the exception of non-Arabs ÷ is a symptom of how far we haven't come from the racist and ignorant policies that led to events such as the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The request becomes even more disquieting when coupled with knowledge of the unsubstantiated detainment of God-knows-how-many imported political prisoners as "witnesses," a term our government has made no attempt to clarify.

Here's the essence of the problem: Someone, somewhere in the world, commits a crime. By our government's standards, in so doing they speak not only for themselves, but for their country, religion, ethnicity, gender, political party, etc. By those same standards, governmental agencies have a mandate to commit whatever crimes they see fit to ensure that they round up all those responsible ÷ and ten times as many who have nothing to do with it. If we're really concerned with justice, we need to start looking at things on a larger scale.

Caitlin Hall is a biochemistry and philosophy sophomore. She can be reached at

Jason Winksy

Fighting back with information an important start

Recently it has been "revealed" that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations, such as the INS, accessed student records in the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Most of the information these agencies received is available widely and freely. There were, however, apparently some students whose full records were given by the UA under subpoena. And that's a good thing.

What everyone needs to realize about the new "war" on terror is that it's not like anything we've seen before. The UA is an important place to start the search for people who may be in this country with bad intentions. This is because (as we know from Sept. 11) many terrorists use the student visa program to enter the country. Many stay in the country after graduating, drop out or never attend school at all. But they remain in the country undetected.

There is a level of privacy and freedom that is being lost, but that is an unfortunate consequence of the task at hand. We cannot find criminals who are hiding within our own system without using the system ourselves to eliminate them. It's the right thing to do.

Jason Winsky is a political science junior. He can be reached at

Mariam Durrani

Investigating students a matter of common sense

This subject is not one of ethics or the violation of the Family Rights and Educational Privacy Act. It is one of simple common sense.

On Sept. 11, our country was attacked by a group of men who included many immigrants here on student visas. In order to safeguard our county in the future from such occurrences, it becomes integral to fully investigate people with the similar backgrounds.

This has got nothing to do with privacy but with future security.

When it comes to the government getting involved with people's private lives, there must be a way to make sure the FBI is dealing with all U.S. residents, regardless of citizenship, respectfully and within the confines of what is legal.

However, the main pieces of information that they are interested in is name and home countries, which really isn't all that out of line.

This issue is being unduly scrutinized. When it is a safety issue, I expect my government to be suspicious of any peculiar activity. There is no question of appropriateness or ethics. It is OK because we have to be careful from now on and not stress about technicalities. It is time for common sense.

Mariam Durrani is a systems engineering senior. She can be reached at

Jessica Lee

Secret path violates rights

The UA completely complied with federal law when handing over the requested student information. What should tick us off is the path that government agencies chose to follow to gain access to student information. It is intolerable that by finding the loophole in the student secrecy law÷the health and safety clause÷federal officers can infiltrate private files.

My colleagues will argue that the "threat of terrorism" justifies following the protected rights listed in the Constitution, especially that of "unreasonable search." While moving, I have to disagree.

The Patriot Act impedes the rights that we hold sacred in the United States. And it is ridiculous to permit such a double standard ÷ we pledge to secure freedom and democracy by bombing and overthrowing dictators across the world ÷ when right here, and now, those very rights that uphold freedom and democracy are being violated on our own soil.

Subpoenas to slide around the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, regardless of arguments of citizenship and threats of terrorism, should not be tolerated. Such actions could not stop the Timothy McVeighs, the Ted Kaczynskis, and the (probably) domestic anthrax criminals.

If Americans cannot preserve the rights that our country was founded on, then what do we have left to protect?

Jessica Lee is an environmental science senior. She can be reached at


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