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Editorials

An Inimicus Brief

Safeguarding personal data in light of the Department of Justice’s filing

The Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief calling on Harvard to unseal admissions data the University has argued should remain private. The brief comes as part of an admissions lawsuit first brought against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions in 2014, which alleges discrimination against Asian-Americans in the admissions process. The department has asserted that the admissions lawsuit is inherently linked to the its separate probe into Harvard’s admissions process and “could directly bear on that investigation.”

As students, we are concerned that unsealing the admissions data as requested by the Department of Justice’s brief will infringe on our privacy. We agree with the argument repeatedly made by Harvard that students who entrusted their applications to the College assumed that their personal data would never be made public and never asked to be a part of this dispute.

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The filing states that providing public access to all relevant admissions material would provide a plethora of benefits that outweigh any costs to student privacy. Specifically, it argues that making these materials public would allow parties outside the case to participate by filing amicus briefs. While adding more voices to the lawsuit would certainly aid in the free expression of ideas, this should not come at the expense of Harvard students’ right to keep their information private. Indeed, we find it nothing short of astounding that the Department of Justice’s lawyers would argue in favor of sacrificing the deeply personal information of college students in exchange for this comparatively minimal benefit.

On a more personal level, the release of these documents would tangibly harm the undergraduate student body. Making these documents public could drastically worsen the scourge of “imposter syndrome”—or the belief that one is not “good enough” for Harvard. Every student that Harvard accepts belongs here, but admissions files are filled with complex symbols and jargon that are difficult to understand, creating potentially highly publicized confusion over any given admission file with deleterious implications for its author.

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We have previously opined that students should not look at their own admissions files for this very reason, but the potential ramifications of the DOJ’s decision are far worse. Indeed, student privacy is a “most compelling reason” to keep these documents sealed in and of itself.

Nevertheless, if the University’s hand is forced to release these files, it must do so with extreme caution, taking all legal steps to redact as much personal information as possible. Ensuring that students’ private information cannot be traced back to them by any party that wants to access the court documents must be a main priority for Harvard.

As this dispute continues to unfold, we are heartened by statements from the University that reaffirm its commitment to protecting its students’ privacy. It is disappointing yet unsurprising that the Department of Justice has failed to do the same.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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