The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday January 24th

FBI Investigating Students' Records

A survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers released last week reported 220 colleges had been contacted at least once since Sept. 11 by federal authorities about the academic standing of foreign students, mostly from Middle Eastern countries.

Jason Foster, a spokesman for San Diego State University, said officials there have been contacted twice by federal agents about some of the 1,400 international students who attend the university.

"In the week following the attacks, the FBI was on campus asking to review student records," he said.

Foster said that before last week, the last time the Immigration and Naturalization Service had asked to view students' records was during an overhaul of the INS during the mid 1980s.

Foster added that before international students can enroll at SDSU or any other U.S. institution, they sign a waiver allowing the INS to check their personal academic records any time it chooses.

Under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, federal authorities cannot view the academic records of students who are U.S. citizens unless they have a court order or subpoena.

But recently approved terrorism legislation might make access to these records easier for federal agents to obtain.

The new law -- titled the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act -- was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26.

The new law allows authorities to get a court order to view students' academic records if the information is pertinent to a criminal investigation.

UNC counsel Mary Sechriest said that in addition to using the power granted them by the legislation, federal authorities will also likely exercise many of the rights they had prior to the act's passage to investigate the status of foreigners.

Sechriest said that prior to Sept. 11, the last time a federal agency asked to view the academic records of an international student at UNC was after the U.S. bombed Lybia in 1986. Since Sept. 11, federal authorities have not asked to view the records of international students at UNC, Registrar David Lanier said.

Lanier said if someone were to inquire about a student, he can provide only basic directory information.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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