What happens to all that information and how is it protected?
Colleges and Universities are bound by a Federal Law called “The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act” ( FERPA ) to make certain that the information provided by and in relation to students is kept private and if no longer needed, discarded in a manner that securely protects the information.
FERPA is a federal Law that is administered by the Family Compliance Office in the US Dept. of Education. It applies to all educational agencies and institutions (schools) that receive funding under any program administered by the Department. Private schools at the elementary and secondary levels generally do not receive funding and are therefore not subject to FERPA. Private post secondary schools, however, generally do receive funding and are therefore subject to FERPA.
While the FERPA Laws also account for a variety of issues such as access to education records, amendments to and disclosure of records, it also makes provisions and guidance on the protection of the information. It is within this segment of the law that Institutions are obligated to protect the privacy of the data and to effectively destroy or eliminate data that is no longer needed in a controlled and secure manner.
How is the data eliminated?
Personal data resides on a variety form of media ( i.e. paper, hard drives, data tapes, optical disks, etc.). Paper is easily destroyed through a Paper Shredder. Many institutions use “in-house” Cross Cut Paper Shredders for this purpose while others may deploy an outside service to shred the paper. It’s always more secure to perform the shredding in a controlled “in-house” environment than through the use of an outside service. Electronic media (data tapes, CDs, hard drives, etc.) are certainly more challenging. Again there are outside services that perform this function yet many institutions are seeking ways to erase, sanitize and/or destroy this form of media with in-house equipment to further the effectiveness by performing this function in a controlled environment.
If you’re like me and completed over ten applications to various colleges for my two daughters, you should take comfort that a Federal Law is out there that mandates those colleges to effectively protect all of the sensitive information that was contained in each application. It may not be a bad idea when applying to a school to get reassurances from them on their methods to protect the data. It should help you sleep a bit easier to know that your identity is protected. Now if only I can figure out how to pay for those tuitions….I can really get a good night’s sleep.