After an email from Student Disability Services on Sept. 6 accidentally revealed the email addresses of 299 students who receive accommodations, Drexel University Law professor Robert Field said Penn will likely receive a “slap on the wrist" in terms of legal repercussions.
Field, who specializes in health management and policy, said this mistake falls under the jurisdiction of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is a federal law that ensures the protection of private student records. According to the FERPA website, the law applies to any schools that receive federal funding from the Department of Education.
Field said from his experiences an “isolated, inadvertent release [of private information] results in a slap on the wrist.”
He specified that only a pattern of release of, or intentional release of, information could result in “serious penalties.”
“If this is an isolated incident and they try to remedy it as quickly as possible, they probably have covered their legal bases [when it comes to FERPA],” Field said.
As far as civil suits are concerned, Field said any students looking to pursue legal action as a result of this mistake would have to show that there had been “some kind of harm" to them as a result of this leak.
“They would have to show that this information was [made] more widely available and caused them some kind of harm,” Field said, “either directly costing them a job or a grade or something or indirectly caused them embarrassment.”
Monica Yant Kinney, a University spokesperson, said Jesselson Director of Student Disability Services Susan Shapiro was unavailable for comment.
Field said the biggest concern was not likely to be legal repercussions, but logisitical ones. He echoed what students said in response to the leak, that is: the breach of privacy may deter students from working with SDS in the future.
“I worry that this breach in our confidentiality will cause students to not register for the accommodations they need because they feel they cannot trust the institution,” said a Nursing senior who receives accommodations from SDS.
This poses a larger problem for Penn because, as Field explained, all students are legally entitled to “reasonable accommodations” if needed, and not getting necessary accommodations could affect their academic careers.
“Students should feel comfortable accessing all of the protections that they are entitled to,” he said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.