US Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., released draft legislation they claim will better protect student privacy on college campuses across the country.
The draft bill would change portions of the federal law that governs student records by putting additional privacy procedures in place before a school’s lawyers can access a student’s personal information, including medical records. The current law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), allows educational institutions a significant amount of discretion in accessing student records without the knowledge or consent of the student.
The draft bill, the Campus Litigation Privacy Act, is modeled after guidelines released in August by the U.S. Department of Education that encourage colleges and universities to put individual policies in place to protect student privacy on campus. The department’s draft guidelines are not binding, and once finalized, schools can choose whether or not to adhere to the recommended best practices.
“The Education Department has issued important guidelines on this issue, but protecting student privacy shouldn’t be voluntary,” Wyden said. “Representative Bonamici and I are working together to ensure heightened protections become the law of the land and we are seeking input to make this proposal even stronger. Students should be able to seek health and mental health care on campus with confidence that their private records will be kept confidential.”
“Students’ health records are not adequately safeguarded, and if students don’t trust the confidentiality of campus-based services, we run the risk of discouraging students from seeking care,” Bonamici said. “I look forward to receiving feedback on this proposal and advancing legislation to strengthen privacy protections for students. I am pleased to be working with Senator Wyden on this important issue.”
FERPA governs student education records, including on-campus health treatment records, while off-campus health care providers must adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In legal cases, HIPAA includes additional protections, such as patient authorization, for patient medical records when the records are disclosed.
Earlier this year, Wyden and Bonamici asked the Department of Education to clarify the privacy protections for students on college and university campuses regarding access to their health records.