Dynes addresses privacy laws

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Dynes addresses privacy laws

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By Wafiqah Basrai
Thursday, May 3, 2007

In response to the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, UC President Robert Dynes addressed the California State Senate Education Committee on Wednesday about giving campuses more flexibility in sharing information on students who officials believe may be threats.

Dynes spoke about reforming certain federal privacy laws to allow university officials to share a student's private information with other school officials and with the student's parents under certain circumstances.

But some students and others are concerned about the implications of opening privacy laws and worry that it can be difficult to determine whether a student is a threat.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevents health care facilities from reporting student information to an educational institution, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act limits the ability of university officials to share private information with a student's family or other organizations.

"We would support federal legislative remedies that would more clearly define circumstances for releasing information to parents or that would 'hold harmless' universities that, acting in the best interest of the student, release information to parents or guardians," Dynes said.

If a university does share information about a student's behavioral or psychological problems with other organizations, it can currently face potential lawsuits. The U.S. Senate discussed possible reforms to these laws on Monday.

Several of the experts at the Senate meeting suggested changing one or both laws to allow for "liability prevention," which would protect colleges and universities.

Such protection, Dynes argued, would allow information about a potentially threatening student to be more easily shared within a college's administration or with local mental health or law-enforcement agencies.

But some students said they were concerned about loosening the federal privacy laws.

"There would be a lot of room for corruption within that suggestion - people could use the information the wrong way," said Avani Desai, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student.

"I think it would make it more difficult for students who are not a threat to society," Desai added.

Russ Federman, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Virginia, said in testimony he gave to the Senate on Monday that he recognized the need for patient confidentiality, but also stressed that university officials need to communicate to each other when a student could be a threat.

He added that officials cannot share information with other university staff unless the student or others are in "imminent danger."

It can be hard for officials to distinguish what is considered "imminent danger," because they can potentially get sued if they share the wrong information, he said.

Dynes also spoke about the zero-tolerance weapon policy at all University of California campuses and said campus police have been trained to act in response to an emergency.

He also discussed campus-wide emergency-notification systems, which include e-mail messages and hotline numbers.

In his testimony, he said he is appointing a Campus Security Task Force composed of university security, student affairs, and legal and emergency-preparedness experts to extensively look into how the campuses can improve security measures. The group will report back to him in 60 days.

Dynes said budget constraints have restrained UC campuses from providing quick and frequent mental health services, but said the UC Board of Regents voted last month to increase funding for student mental health services by $4.6 million.

Tiffany Rodriguez, a third-year psychology student, said she believes this increase in funding will be good for the UC because many people do not know much about mental health services the campuses offer.

"It will give people more access to it," she said.

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Original Source: <a href=http://www.dailybruin.ucla.edu/news/2007/may/03/dynes_addresses_privacy_laws/>The Daily Bruin - May 3, 2007</a>

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Wafiqah Basrai

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The Daily Bruin

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2007-07-15

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Sara Hood

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Saba Riazati <editor@media.ucla.edu>

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eng

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Wafiqah Basrai , "Dynes addresses privacy laws," in The April 16 Archive, Item #717, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/717 (accessed December 19, 2014).