The Des Moines Register has a followup to its article detailing how the University of Iowa gave confidential student information to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office — even when students weren’t a threat. This raises significant privacy and civil liberty questions. The Register reports:
After University of Iowa student Brian Engler applied for a gun permit eight weeks ago, the school’s associate dean of students told campus police that Engler was taking classes part time and that he was divorced.
Despite a federal law restricting the sharing of student information, the U of I police passed that information on to the Johnson County sheriff’s office, where Engler had applied for his gun permit.
Engler told The Des Moines Register on Thursday that there are two problems with that communication: The information Associate Dean of Students Tom Baker shared with law enforcement officers was irrelevant to a request for a gun permit, and it was incorrect. He has never been divorced, he says. […]
The Des Moines Register reported last week that for years the university has quietly been giving the Johnson County sheriff’s office confidential, education-related information on students who have applied for gun permits. The information is protected by a federal law intended to shield student education information from disclosure.
Amid concern from students, privacy advocates and gun-rights advocates, the university temporarily suspended the information-sharing practice late last week. U of I officials said any disclosures they made were authorized by a broad privacy waiver signed by all Johnson County residents who apply for a gun permit at the sheriff’s office.
However, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the university’s own staff-training materials state that a FERPA privacy waiver must specify the type of school information that’s being shared, even if it’s disclosed only to parents.
University attorney Nathan Levin has said that while he can’t speak directly to the precise disclosures made by the school about specific students, university officials plan to consult with the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces FERPA, as to how they should proceed. […]
Privacy advocates say that at the very least, the sheriff and the university should have told students — as well as faculty and staff — that if they applied for a gun permit it would trigger an internal university investigation that could lead to confidential information being relayed to the sheriff. […]
Because the information that’s most at issue is protected by FERPA, The Des Moines Register can’t determine precisely what the school has told the sheriff about all of the students. However, FERPA gives students the right to see information about themselves that their school has shared with others. This week, Engler asked for that information from the sheriff and from the U of I. He then relayed that information to the Register.
Read the full story to learn more about the university and sheriff’s office information-sharing.