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Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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University issues statement on release of student records to government agencies, Nov. 28

The University has received queries from members of the community about the potential release of student records to government agencies in light of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. In response, the University has released the following statement:

The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records. The University supports the FERPA protections and regularly insists that any requests from third parties for access to student records fully conform with the FERPA requirements. Except in the case of directory information (e.g. a students name, dates of attendance, date and place of birth, etc.), which is publicly available, FERPA generally requires that prior written consent be provided by a current or former student before education records or information from those records are disclosed to any third party, including criminal investigators.

If the University is asked to provide student records in response to a subpoena, FERPA does not require a students consent, but it does expect that the University will make a reasonable attempt to notify the student in advance of the Universitys compliance. The University does make every effort to notify the current or former student in advance of compliance in such cases. However, FERPA also permits law enforcement personnel, under certain circumstances, to seek a court order which compels production of education records by an institution and orders that the institution give no prior notice to the student and that it make no other disclosure about the inquiry to anyone.

The recently enacted USA PATRIOT Act underscores the fact that FERPA does allow law enforcement agencies, with appropriate approvals from a court, to require that the student not be notified and that the institution not announce or confirm to anyone that the students records have been requested. The law, which focuses on anti-terrorism efforts, indicates that law enforcement officials must present to the court a certification that there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the education records are likely to contain information which is relevant to an authorized investigation or prosecution of terrorism.

The University will comply with the law and with any subpoenas or court orders that have been appropriately executed. In each case, we will insist that all the proper legal standards and requirements have been fully met. We also will monitor the nature and number of requests to try to ascertain, at least within our own experience, whether the law is being utilized as we believe it was intended (only to investigate individuals when there is credible reason, as demonstrated to a court, that unannounced access to records is warranted), or whether it is being used broadly to collect information motivated solely by the ethnicity or nationality of those whose records are being sought.

If we have reason to believe that the law is being applied inappropriately, we would of course bring our concerns to the attention of the responsible authorities in the courts, in the law enforcement agencies and in the Congress. Responsibility at Princeton for response to requests made under subpoena or court order and for monitoring such requests rests with the Office of General Counsel.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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