Oklahoma State University's Citing Of Privacy Laws Questioned

Friday, January 25th 2013, 1:14 pm
By: News On 6

An Oklahoma State University police report provided to News On 6 on Thursday has brought into question the school's interpretation of privacy laws.

A 19-year-old woman filed a peeping tom complaint with campus police on Saturday, claiming she was made aware that her ex-boyfriend filmed her during consensual sex in a campus residence hall in October 2012. She told police the filming took place without her knowledge or consent.

1/24/2013 Related Story: Peeping Tom Allegations Leveled At OSU Football Player

The woman claims the sex acts occurred in a dorm room at Davis Residence Hall and her ex-boyfriend is an OSU football player.

Neither campus police nor OSU Communications would comment on the woman's allegations on Thursday. A spokesperson, however, provided a police report with the woman's name, address and her telephone number visible. The name of the man was blacked out intentionally.

When asked for an explanation, OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt said the office didn't redact the woman's personal information because it was abiding by Oklahoma's Open Records Act.

"The reporting party is public information; suspects and witnesses are not until charges have been filed," Shutt wrote to News On 6 in a Thursday email.

According to Joey Senat, Associate Professor at OSU's School of Media & Strategic Communications, the Open Records Act does not apply in this situation and the victim's name should not have been released.

The school should have followed the Clery Act, a federal statute which supersedes the state's Open Records Act, he said.

"The Clery Act requires public and private post-secondary schools that receive federal funding and maintain a police or security department to keep a daily crime log that is open to public inspection and is readily understandable," Senat wrote on the Freedom of Information Oklahoma website.

There are also requirements that come into play when applying the statute.

"Victims' names must be redacted," Senat wrote. "This requirement supersedes the state Open Records Act, which has no such provision."

12/11/2012 Related Story: OSU: Privacy Law Prevented Disclosing Sexual Assault Allegations To Police

OSU also came under fire in December for how it handled sexual assault allegations involving a fraternity member by citing a federal law meant to protect students' privacy. The school handled those claims internally and told police 18 days after it was made aware of them.

OSU said it could not notify police about those alleged sexual assaults because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student records.

Last month, the lead attorney at the Student Press Law Center said OSU's handling of that sexual assault case was one of the worst abuses of FERPA he'd ever seen and a possible sexual predator on campus should have been enough to involve the police and to notify the campus community.

FERPA permits school officials to disclose personally identifiable information if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or others, the U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradford said.

Coincidentally, Shutt also mentioned FERPA in Thursday's email as the reason why the university did not redact the woman's name in the recent peeping tom allegations.

"The victim's name is not protected by FERPA because once it goes to the police it is a police record, not an educational record," Shutt wrote.

It is News On 6 policy not to report the names of alleged sex crime victims.