ACLU Accuses Nevada School with Invading Student PrivacyIn this follo

Editor's Note: In this follow-up to our recent feature Charge Now, Think Later, Katia explores a recent case brought to us by the ACLU. As the facts suggest, students and young people everywhere are up against some major obstacles in maintaining their privacy. Informing ourselves about this issue is only the first step. Go to the Tap In Message Boards to tell us what you think about this issue.


"We're young, we're naïve, we're vulnerable -- credit card companies know that."

Alicia Lerud, a junior at the University of Nevada Reno, was aware that credit card companies often prey on unsuspecting college students to boost profits. What she didn't know was that her school may be helping a powerful credit card issuer do their dirty work.

The University of Nevada Reno is one of several campuses accused of selling confidential student information to MBNA, a Delaware-based company that claims "getting the right customers and keeping them" is the foundation of their business. In exchange for supplying names and addresses of former students, universities pocket a portion of profits made from credit card purchases.

This practice violates federal privacy rules according to the American Civil Liberties Union, who demanded that the University and Community College System of Nevada (UCCSN) stop selling private student information in a Jan. 22 letter to Chancellor Jane Nichols. The ACLU also encouraged university officials to extend privacy protection to donors, faculty and staff.
In exchange for supplying names and addresses of former students, universities pocket a portion of profits made from credit card purchases.

In response, UCCSN regents discussed their privacy practices during a Jan. 24-25 meeting in Las Vegas. The university allowed the ACLU to make a presentation, but failed to issue a directive ordering the practice to stop.

"We made it clear that there wasn't adequate disclosure about the policy," Board of Regents member Mark Alden said. "The law wasn't violated; the spirit of the law was violated."

Alden said that expanding protection beyond students and faculty is a matter of public policy and may be beyond the university's jurisdiction.

Though the ACLU threatened to prosecute if the university declines to stop the sale of information, legal action is not definite, according to Jay Stanley, Privacy Public Education Coordinator at the ACLU. "There is still a good chance this will be resolved," Stanley said. "Our ultimate aim is to protect privacy, not to punish the university. The ACLU has every right to pursue legal action...they would have a great deal of student support."

The University of Nevada Reno received $58,000 from MBNA last year, according to the letter.

The practice became public when Denise Wilcox, a student at the Community College of Southern Nevada, raised questions about the school's privacy policy.

Selling student information violates both university policies and the federal Family Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA), which requires universities who receive federal funds to protect certain student information. Schools can only disclose data listed under "directory information" or with the written consent of students. UCCSN does not list student names and addresses as directory information.
Mounting anti-terrorist sentiment weakens student privacy even further. With an upsurge in patriotism, there is less judicial supervision and fewer provisions for privacy.

"That's the irony here," Stanley said. "The University of Nevada had a better privacy policy than most other schools. It's legal to have a bad policy, but it's illegal to live up to an existing policy."

Mounting anti-terrorist sentiment weakens student privacy even further. With an upsurge in patriotism, there is less judicial supervision and fewer provisions for privacy, according to Stanley.

This incident and ones like it, may prompt young people to think more about protecting their privacy as it's becoming clear that the law may not.

"When students get credit cards," said Stanley, "they need to be responsible for their actions. But, the higher burden is on the university."


Katia Savchuk is a Junior at Lowell High School in San Francisco. She is a writer and editor for The Lowell, and a contributing writer for WireTap.



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