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FERPA abuse reaches new extremes with unconstitutional restraint against Wyoming newspaper

(05/22/10 11:02pm)

Despite eighty years of contrary U.S. Supreme Court precedent, a Wyoming judge has restrained a newspaper from publishing lawfully obtained information about a local college -- on the grounds of the college's bogus claim of "student privacy." The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that Laramie County District Judge Peter G.

A plea for restoring common sense to out-of-control federal secrecy laws

(05/11/10 5:37pm)

It's no secret that FERPA is out of control. Enacted in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act aimed to protect the confidentiality of students' "educational records." But today, thanks to over-broad definitions, coupled with the Draconian threat of cutting universities' federal funding if violated, the law is causing universities to consistently err on the side of secrecy, keeping information of public interest hidden under a misplaced redaction bar. In the May 14 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the SPLC's Frank LoMonte tackles the current state of FERPA's rampant misuse, highlighting some of the most extreme applications of the federal law that student and professional journalists alike have run into, and pointing out the irrational interpretations of "education records." Despite the dire state of the law -- a law that admittedly has the well-intentioned goal of preventing disclosure of students' private academic information -- it's not too late to turn it around.

Are the SEC's S&M copyright rules pre-empted by federal law?

(05/11/10 8:29pm)

The Attorney General of Tennessee recently opined that the SEC was within its rights to limit media access to college sporting events to those news organizations who were willing to sign away large sections of their intellectual property rights as part of a credentialing scheme. It’s a neat idea, and I’m sure it would be expedient for the SEC if the world really did work that way, but I’m afraid the Attorney General’s opinion raises more copyright questions than it answers—not the least of those questions being whether the SEC’s credentialing scheme is actually preempted by federal copyright law. Preemption is a doctrine that says, when there’s a disagreement between state laws and federal laws, the federal law wins.

Kagan First Amendment article indicates appreciation for student speech rights

(05/12/10 1:19pm)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan has no paper trail of judicial rulings on the First Amendment, but her academic writings suggest that she appreciates the need for robust constitutional protection of speech on campus, even when the words may be hurtful or offensive. In a 1996 article published in the University of California-Davis Law Review, then-Associate White House Counsel Kagan zeroed in on the constitutional flaws in an anti-discrimination code promulgated by Stanford University.

Preventing yearbook vandalism

(05/21/10 12:20pm)

As spring delivery yearbooks begin to arrive on high school campuses across the country, there will be — as happens every year — a tiny few that include unpleasant surprises (and it is a very “tiny” number relative to the thousands of yearbooks that will arrive exactly as expected.)  That’s because every year, it’s discovered that someone snuck some prank entry into the yearbook files — often after the pages had been signed off on by editors but before being sent to the printer, but sometimes simply by being sneaky and slipping it past the editors. Among those we’ve seen over the years: doctoring classmates' names, substituting an unflattering photo, inserted “coded” messages or profanity, rewriting a student bio or adding racist comments. Often the change is meant as a joke, but while their intent might have been to have some fun, there is nothing funny about the practice.

FSU-NCAA case is a touchdown for transparency, a fumble for FERPA fundamentalists

(05/26/10 1:52am)

It's becoming increasingly difficult for colleges to argue with a straight face that the federal student privacy law prevents them from honoring their duty to disclose newsworthy public records they'd prefer to keep hidden. The Florida Supreme Court's decision Monday to decline review of a lower-court ruling -- which declared that NCAA documents shared with, and used by, Florida State University are subject to disclosure under Florida's open-records law -- reaffirms that government documents may not be withheld from public view just because the documents incidentally mention college students. The dispute involved a request by the Associated Press and other news organizations for documents relating to allegations that several Florida State employees afforded preferential academic treatment to student-athletes.