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FAQ: Use of Student Information


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When can I disclose information about a student?

Within MIT, you may disclose personally identifiable information about a current or former student only to those faculty and staff members who have a need to know the information. You may disclose student information to others within MIT only if it is Directory Information or if you have explicit consent from the student to make the disclosure. “Need to know” and “Directory Information” are explained under the next two questions.

To individuals and organizations outside MIT, you may disclose personal information about a current or former student only after obtaining the student’s prior, written consent—or when the information is Directory Information that the student has not asked MIT to withhold from public disclosure.

What constitutes a “need to know”?

 MIT officials (individual persons employed in an administrative, academic, research, supervisory, or support position) who have a legitimate educational interest may have access to the specific student information that is needed to fulfill their professional responsibilities (need to know) without a student's prior consent. For example:

What is “Directory Information”?

The following information is designated "Directory Information” by the Institute and may be released unless the student has requested that the information be withheld from disclosure.

To find out what information a student has chosen to suppress, consult the online directory. Address, telephone, course, or year information not appearing in the online directory has been suppressed by the student. A student may choose to withhold his or her information from the directory entirely, in which case no information may be released without the student's written consent. Inquiries about degrees and dates of attendance should be referred to the Registrar's Office, E34-400.

The Student Directory itself, and listings with directory information about multiple students, whether paper or electronic, may never be released to anyone outside the Institute or placed on a public website.

What about information that is not "Directory Information"?

The rest of a student's educational record is non-directory information. Non-directory information may not be disclosed outside the Institute without the student’s prior, written consent. This information includes, but is not limited to:

Students often ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation or to serve as references when applying for jobs or admission to other academic programs. May information from students’ educational records be included?

Yes, but federal law requires the students’ specific, written consent. Obtaining separate, written requests for each and every letter or oral reference for the same student can, however, be quite burdensome. We suggest that faculty ask students at least to send a brief email message stating that that they are seeking employment (or academic admission, etc.), and indicating as specifically as possible the kind of information that may be released for that purpose, and to whom.

What if a student's parents call and ask about their child's record? 

MIT has a long-standing policy of communicating confidentially with students with respect to their academic, health, and advising matters. Parents who ask you for non-directory information should be referred to the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, 7-133, or the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, 3-138. These offices will be able to provide parents with as much information as the law permits.

What if I get a request from a government agency, or a court order, for student information?

Faculty and staff may provide information to law enforcement agents, such as the FBI, who are conducting routine background checks only when the agent presents a form signed by the student specifically authorizing the investigation.

Subpoenas and court orders, on the other hand, should be referred to the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, 7-133, or the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, 3-138. Non-routine requests from law enforcement organizations, such as those pertaining particularly to international students, should be referred to the Registrar’s Office.

What if I get a call from a newspaper or television reporter?

Requests from the media about current and former students should be directed to the News Office.

Students occasionally ask me to disclose to them information that I keep about them in my files. Which records, if any, do they have the right to see?

A student who makes a written request has the legal right to see any record you maintain that identifies the student (including copies you keep of correspondence about the student) unless the student has waived the right of access. This right does not apply to any portion of a student’s record that identifies another student, or to your personal records as long as these are never shared with, or accessible by, any other person (not even a personal assistant). You may contact the Committee on Student Information Policy for assistance with such a request.

We post each student's picture, year, and term address on our department's web page. Only people within the department have access to the website. Do we need to get the students’ permission to do this?

Yes. Students have the right to withhold directory and other personal information from public or community distribution. Permission must be received from each student in order to post his or her personal information to any web site, whether open or limited.

What about my class lists?  With whom may I share these?

The instructor in charge of a subject may share class lists, including lists with photographs, only with other faculty, TAs, and administrators assigned to that subject. No information or photographs from these lists may be disseminated further by any of these recipients, nor used for any purpose other than to fulfill appropriate instructional and administrative responsibilities.

Is it OK if I use email to send student information that I’m permitted to disclose?

There isn’t a clear answer to this question. Given the current state of technology, it is important to understand that email is not a secure means of transmitting information unless it is encrypted. Therefore, sending email is more like sending a postcard than mailing a sealed letter. On the other hand, email is convenient and its use is commonplace.

We suggest using email with an amount of caution that is proportionate to the sensitivity of its contents. It is always best if you can ascertain that the student whose information you wish to send understands and consents to the security risks entailed before you send the information by email. It is also strongly advisable to minimize the identifiability of the student as much as possible. For example, if the recipient will already know about whom you are writing, there is no need to include the student’s identity. In some cases, the student’s initials or first name may be sufficient. Try not to use sensitive words like “grades,”  “academic difficulty,” “financial hold,” “disciplinary action,” “CAP,” “COD,” etc. , in your headers. We strongly suggest that email not be used at all for sending batches of sensitive data such as lists of students’ grades or ID numbers.