June 21, 2006
All colleges and universities in Virginia will soon have to hand over personal information about incoming students to police, including students' Social Security numbers. The goal is to keep better tabs on sex offenders, but this raises some concerns.
Basically, it's a privacy issue. Whenever personal information is passed on to a third party there's a fear that the sensitive information could be lost or even worse, stolen.
Starting July 1, 2006, police will have access to the protected information of thousands of students. The provision is part of Virginia’s increase in sex-offender laws, and will alert colleges if a registered sex offenders is a student
“As a woman student, I feel as though, if there is going to be a rapist on campus or if there is a rapist nearby, I should know about it,” said UVa student Antea Singleton.
"I'd want to feel safe around campus, so I'd want to know if someone living around me [was a sex offender]. You don't think that students would be sex offenders, but there are students who are sex offenders and I’d definitely want to know,” said UVa student Amy Pearlman.
Students’ personal information will be passed on to state police and checked against the sex offender database.
“This is an additional tool for the state police. A system of checks and balances to make sure that [sex-offenders] are fulfilling their obligations,” said Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo.
Privacy advocates are alarmed by the new measure.
“Who is usually affected by laws like this are innocent people who find out one day when they wake up [that] somebody has information on them they're using against them, or their identity was stolen,” said John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville.
Students say the benefits outweigh the risks.
“Most things that people do--credit cards and all that stuff--there's always the risk of identity theft, so it's a risk you take,” said Pearlman.
State police say they will not hold on to any personal information of students if it does not match the information in their database.
“[I also have] a child in college; he’d very much, and I would very much like to know and do want to know if my child is at risk on a college campus, in my particular case in another state,” said Longo.
All students interviewed for this story said that they would risk their identity being compromised for the piece of mind of knowing whether a sex offender was living in their dorm or walking on grounds with them.
The new law also requires the DMV to turn over personal information to police any time someone applies for a license or change of address.