The Catholic University of America

Of Counsel - A Bulletin on Legal Issues at CUA - November 1997

Student Records

Real Life Stories from the Files of the General Counsel: "The Case of the Fake Federal Agent"

The telephone rang in my office one Friday afternoon. It was hot and muggy, the kind of day you wish it was 5:00 o'clock and you could go home, the kind of day the heat slows your brain to a crawl. The kind of day people make mistakes.

The call was from Mrs. Dalloway in the Registrar's office. "Hey, doll," she drawled, "I got a question for you. I just finished a phone call from a guy who wanted some class schedule information on a graduate student. He said he was Special Agent Albee, with the Washington Field Office of the FBI. I don't know why I did it -- it's so hot over here, I can't think straight. I gave him the information he wanted. Then, as soon as I hung up, I started thinking. Maybe I shouldn't have given him that information. By the way, the student's name is Virginia Woof."

Virginia Woof! I knew I had heard that name before, but that wasn't important now. What was important was that Mrs. Dalloway needed a refresher course on the requirements for disclosure of student information (1997-98 CUA Student Handbook, page 96-97). She should have remembered that the only information to be given out over the phone is "directory information," and that would not include a current class schedule. And if it really was a request from a government agency, or a subpoena or judicial order, CUA's policy requires that such requests be in writing and evaluated by the General Counsel.

What if this Albee guy wasn't an FBI agent? If he wasn't a Fed, then we had a FERPA violation on our hands, and maybe a bad one! I got Mrs. Dalloway calmed down enough to give me Virginia Woof's phone number. There was only one decent thing to do in a jam like this.

I dialed the number, and a quiet voice answered, "Hello." I told her who I was and what had happened. She told me she and her husband were in the middle of a nasty divorce, and she was sure he was the caller. She was grateful that we had warned her about our inadvertent disclosure and the details of our mistake. "It's not the first time he's tried something like this," she said. "He's not afraid of me but then, who is?"

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