FBI Subpoenas Student Records

University officials say document requests limited to one former Kennedy School Student

Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government recently released records containing confidential information about at least one of its graduates, in compliance with a subpoena from the FBI, University spokesperson Joe Wrinn said yesterday.

The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the FBI and Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) have obtained information on students at nearly 200 colleges in their efforts to trace the financing of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

They have also requested confidential information such as financial aid records from about 90 colleges.

Although Wrinn said he could not confirm whether the subpoena was connected to the investigation, he did say it was the only one Harvard has received since the attacks, and that such requests are uncommon but were not unprecedented even before the attacks.

“It certainly doesn’t happen every week, it’s not a very regular occurrence,” Wrinn said.

Wrinn said that Harvard did not notify the former student about the release of the records.

Although the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (known as the Buckley Amendment) stipulates that colleges cannot disclose students’ records to third parties unless they receive a valid subpoena and notify the student, it includes a clause that exempts universities from these responsibilities in case of an emergency.

According to the Los Angeles times the FBI and INS have invoked this clause in their investigation, meaning that they can ask Harvard for confidential student information without a subpoena.

But Wrinn stressed that no mass searching of student records has taken place so far at Harvard.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances, of course we’re cooperating with any legal request,” Wrinn said. “[But] we’re going to cooperate with law enforcement in such a way that [students’] fundamental privacy and civil liberty rights are also upheld.”

According to the Globe, at least one of the 19 hijackers entered the United States carrying a student visa, which requires the bearer to provide a college with the student’s pertinent financial information.

KSG administrators referred inquiries to Wrinn, as did phone representatives at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, while General Counsel Anne Taylor could not be reached for comment.

FBI spokesperson Gail Marcinkiewicz said that the FBI cannot legally comment on grand jury subpoenas.

—Staff Writer Daniel K. Rosenheck can be reached at rosenhec@fas.harvard.edu.