Government probes student files

Jon Ortiz

Federal investigators are requesting ? and getting ? student information from California State University and schools across the country as they follow leads related to the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Sac State Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs Ann Reed told The State Hornet Friday that FBI agents seeking student information contacted seven of the 23 California State Universities.

While the FBI refused comment on their investigations, it is known that they are especially interested in foreign student records.

“I don?t know what the FBI?s reasoning is, but I do know there?s an issue about student?s visas,” she said.

Reed said that as of last Friday, administrators had not received any requests for student records including those of Raed Hijazi, a former Sac State student with admitted ties to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Hijazi was sentenced to death this year in Jordan after his conviction for plotting to bomb tourist sites during the 2000 New Year?s celebrations.

“He left in ?89 and we?ve had no dealings with him since,” Reed said of Hijazi.

The Sacramento Bee reported last week that the Los Rios Community College District recently gave federal agents a list of students enrolled in a specific academic program. District officials declined to name which program was under scrutiny or why investigators had narrowed their investigation.

Colleen Bentley-Adler, spokeswoman for California State University chancellor?s office, acknowledged that investigators recently contacted some colleges in the CSU system.

“We have been cooperating with the FBI fully and releasing the information that they have requested,” Bentley-Adler said. “I haven?t heard anyone expressing concern about the investigations yet.”

If investigators contact Sac State, Reed and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs David Braverman both said that school officials would review each request separately before responding.

“We?ve got to protect for individual rights and civil liberties,” Braverman said, “but we?ve got to be concerned with student safety, too.”

One concern that administrators have expressed is how government record requests should be handled under the law. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires schools to shield a student?s records from examination without permission from the student.

But Braverman said that his counterparts at other schools told him that the government “is going the subpoena route.” FERPA allows an institution to disclose information without student knowledge or consent when “a Federal subpoena” or “any other subpoena” is issued. In such cases, schools have little alternative but to submit to the court order.

The Bee reported that the Los Rios district–which includes American River, Cosumnes and Sacramento City colleges?turned over their records on the advice of their education department even though they had not been issued a subpoena.

Calls to the Los Rios Community College district office by The State Hornet were not returned.

Braverman said that if authorities request that Sac State turn over any student records he will seek counsel.

“If I do get contacted, I?ll immediately contact an attorney,” he said.