[Reader-list] The Patriot Act ...

Avishek Ganguly avishek_ganguly at yahoo.co.in
Thu Dec 26 04:42:11 IST 2002

The "Patriot Act" and other trivia from the land of


Foreign students under FBI scanner 
Washington, Dec. 25: The FBI is asking colleges and
universities around the country to provide the
government with personal information about all foreign
students and faculty, prompting objections from some
schools and higher education groups that view the
request as illegal.

The FBI says it needs the information to determine
whether foreign students or teachers have ties to
known or suspected terrorists. FBI and justice
department officials say recent anti-terrorism
language in the USA Patriot Act allows schools to
provide the data without notifying those involved.

But one prominent higher education group has told its
members that providing the information would violate
federal law. The US department of education also
indicated in a general advisory this year that some of
the information now sought by the FBI cannot be
provided without a court order or subpoena. 

The conflict has attracted the attention of senators
Patrick Leahy and Edward Kennedy, who complained in a
letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft last week
that the “legality of this request is not so clear”.
The two, who are members of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, said the Patriot Act approved after the
September 11, 2001, terror attacks was specifically
designed to limit government access to student

“This law requires both a court order and a showing
that the request is specifically tailored to a
terrorism investigation,” the senators wrote to
Ashcroft on December 18. “The FBI request does not
appear to fulfill either of these requirements.”

The controversy serves as the latest example of
tension between law enforcement and academia since the
September 11 attacks, carried out by hijackers who
were trained at US flight schools and took advantage
of lax oversight given to foreign students in the

The FBI’s request comes as schools are scrambling to
provide similar information to another agency, the
Immigration and Naturalisation Service, which is
building a database to track the more than 200,000
foreign students who enroll in US schools each year.

But unlike the INS, which is entitled to personal
student information under immigration law, the ability
of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to
obtain such information is limited, legal and
education experts said. 

In the weeks following the September 11 attacks, about
200 colleges acknowledged in a national survey that
they had turned over information about foreign
students to the FBI, most of the time without a
subpoena or court order. But most of those requests
were about specific students, and compliance was
allowed under emergency provisions of federal privacy
laws, officials said. 

The new letters, sent from FBI field offices beginning
last month, request that schools provide the “names,
addresses, telephone numbers, citizenship information,
places of birth, dates of birth and any foreign
contact information” for teachers and students who are
foreign nationals, according to a sample copy provided
to The Washington Post. 

The FBI declined to say how many schools have been
asked for the information, or how many have complied.
But officials characterised the request as voluntary. 

“There’s no requirement on the part of the colleges to
provide this information,” FBI spokesman Bill Carter
said. “We can request it, and they can provide the
information. They don’t have to comply.”

Before the Patriot Act took effect, the law governing
the privacy of student records, the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act, allowed schools to provide
only “directory information”, such as names, ages and
birthdates, to law enforcement officers. Even then,
the law required schools to obtain students’ consent
for providing such information without a court order,
legal experts said.

The FBI’s stance, as outlined in its letter to
universities, is that amendments included in the
Patriot Act allow schools to “release information to
the federal government for use in combating
terrorism”, including a student’s citizenship and

But LeRoy S. Rooker, director of the family policy
compliance office at the US department of education,
said in an interview yesterday that federal education
officials have determined that, even with the changes
made by the Patriot Act, citizenship and foreign
address information cannot generally be provided to
law enforcement agencies without a court order. Rooker
outlined the limitations in a guidance document last

After the FBI began sending letters to colleges and
universities, the Association of American College
Registrars and Admissions Officers issued a report
saying that “a subpoena or court order must accompany
all law enforcement requests for nonconsensual
releases” of citizenship and similar information.

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