Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, has submitted a bill that would exempt college student cellphone numbers and private email addresses from publicly available data. Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, and Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, have submitted similar bills. Reports the Roanoke Times:
The bills address concerns raised during the 2017 election when NextGen Virginia, a progressive political group, submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for campus directories from all of the state’s public universities.
The group sought student cellphone numbers in order to seek to drive up voter turnout for Democratic candidates.
In Virginia’s House of Delegates Wednesday, Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, highlighted protecting student data as one of the House Republican Caucus’s top education priorities this session.
“When students and parents provide their personal information to colleges and universities of the commonwealth, they don’t expect that that information would be available to political activist groups and campaigns,” Landes said.
Bacon’s bottom line: Normally, I’m a big fan of open access to government data. But open access needs to be balanced against the right to privacy.
I work at home, and I’m bedeviled all day long by unsolicited calls from telemarketers. I can’t remember the last time I got a phone call from someone whose telephone number I did not provide either personally, by posting on this blog, or by including in the directory of our homeowners association. I’ve signed up for the do-not-call list — while I was typing this sentence I literally got a robo-call from “Greg with the Health Care Enrollment Center” — but it hasn’t stopped the inundation of calls. Accordingly, I have become a big fan of restricting access to personal contact information.
Judging by the Roanoke Times article, students have an opt-out option already. They can prohibit the release of their contact data. It would be interesting to know if that option was honored in the dissemination of data to NextGen Virginia. If it was, that provision arguably is protection enough. But changing the “opt out” provision to an “opt in” strikes me as a justifiable change. Students who want their data to be public still can allow it to be so. At the same time the measure protects those who might carelessly skip over the opt-out box or be oblivious to the ways in which their personal data might be abused.