Records discarded at the University of Kansas were mailed anonymously to three newspapers, prompting a campus investigation Wednesday. It was the second report in two months of such a breach of students’ privacy.
The records included what appeared to be graded exams, job applications, change-of-grade forms, class rosters, seating charts and copies of health insurance cards and immigration forms, according to editors at the newspapers. Some of the documents contained credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and student identification numbers, they said.
The records were mailed in manila envelopes, with a letter in each packet. Each letter said the papers had come from the university’s math department or its recycling center. The letter’s writers claimed to be former math teaching assistants or current employees of the recycling center, and they were critical of how the math department handled its records.
“Our No. 1 concern is protecting these individuals from any compounded exposure and launching an investigation,” university spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said.
Bretz also issued a statement asking news organizations that had received the documents to return them. She said doing so would protect patients’ privacy and allow the university to contact students whose records were mailed. Also, she said the university needed the documents as evidence in its investigation.
In July, The University Daily Kansan, the campus newspaper, reported that documents were left in vacant offices in Wescoe Hall, which was being renovated. The documents included graded exams, student essays and schedule-changing forms. Earlier this month, university officials announced a new program to improve the protection of private information.
“Obviously the sorts of records that are in these packets are private and should have been protected,” Bretz said. “Safeguarding personal information is a priority at KU.”
The Kansan and the Lawrence Journal-World received their packets Tuesday, and The Kansas City Star received documents Wednesday, their editors said.
“They looked like they came straight from a filing cabinet,” said Erick Schmidt, the Kansan’s editor.
The Kansan planned to return what it received in the mail to the university but was keeping a single copy of each record in a locked safe. He said the newspaper needed a copy of the records for its reporting.
“We’re just trying to tell a story and get the word out to people that this kind of stuff is going on,” Schmidt said.
Dennis Anderson, the Journal-World’s managing editor, said the newspaper would allow the university to review what it had received, but not make copies or retrieve the originals. He said the paper’s attorney concluded the documents were its property; they were locked in a filing cabinet.
Later, in a story on its Web site, the Journal-World said it would destroy the documents after its reporting was finished. He said the newspaper wouldn’t make any information in the documents public.
“The story’s not us,” Anderson said. “The biggest concern is that the documents must be taken care of.”
The Star hadn’t decided Wednesday whether it would return the documents or destroy them after its reporting was finished, editor Mark Zieman said. He also assured students that information in the records wouldn’t be made public.
“These documents weren’t disposed of properly originally, and we will certainly make sure they are this time,” Zieman said.
On the Net:
University of Kansas: http://www.ku.edu
University Daily Kansan: http://www.kansan.com/
Kansas City Star: http://www.kansascity.com/
– Associated Press
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