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In Quest for Transparency, Some Connecticut Students' Privacy Rights Violated

Tom Murphy
Creative Commons

A state website published information about college students and their salaries, violating their privacy rights. The incident has called attention to a number of other concerns surrounding transparency and privacy.

The website Transparency.ct.gov is dedicated to providing transparency of government functions. It includes, among other things, the names, positions and salaries of government employees.

But while reviewing the site, public auditors found that names of college students and their salaries were included. This likely violated their rights to privacy that are laid out in the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

“The college had released this information to the state comptroller for purposes of payroll, which is completely allowed," said John Geragosian, one of the state's auditors. "The state comptrollers office in turn released this information to the office of Fiscal Analysis for the creation of the transparency website, which appears to violate FERPA.”

Geragosian noted that there wasn’t any information on the site to indicate that the names and salaries belonged to students. He said the problem is something that governments will likely continue to encounter as they balance the need for transparency with an individual’s right to privacy.

Education attorney Andrew Feinstein said that this isn't a major FERPA violation, but worse incidents happen all the time.

“There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t hear from a parent about some egregious violation of their child’s right to privacy,” Feinstein said.

Any student attending a public school or university has certain privacy rights, which can be waived by parents or students who are over 18. However, Feinstein said that FERPA violators, which are often school districts, face no consequences. 

Feinstein said that schools also withhold information from parents and the media, using FERPA to shield themselves from criticism. The law has never been substantially updated since it was passed in 1974.

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