OSU using location data collection of employees, students for contact tracing purposes

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STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Oklahoma State University is collecting the location data of students and employees for the purpose of contact tracing, but some affected by the decision feel it has left unanswered questions.

According to the school’s website, the school will track location data for devices that log into WiFi access points to “identify employee and student movement across the OSU campus,” and store that data for 30 days “solely to aid with contact tracing.”

The school will also use data from class schedules, and OSU ID card transactions.

The website said the “location data will be held in extreme confidence and shared only with leadership of University Health Services.”

Students who spoke to News 4 said they don’t feel concerned about this data collection.

“I think it’s a good way for us to be able to still be in class and not be forced to be all online,” said student Tucker Myers.

“We have to do something so we can stop it,” said student Emmanuel Fasanya. “If it’s better for our safety of the students, I feel like its something we should do.”

But Dr. Joey Senat, a communication law professor, said he’s frustrated that the university didn’t discuss the methodology with employees or students before implementing the policy.

“I just think it needs to be an issue we discussed so people can make an informed decision,” Dr. Senat said.

He said he has concerns that the information could possibly be accessed under government open record laws, exposing the whereabouts to faculty, staff, and students, especially journalism students.

“I can see where that information would be useful in telling when and where faculty and administrators are going about on campus,” he said.

He’s also concerned that the information could possibly be used for other means.

“The contact tracing isn’t a problem, and I understand the need for that,” Dr. Senat said. “But this is going a step into collecting data about our movements, whether we test positive for COVID-19 or not.”

KFOR requested an interview with OSU officials Wednesday morning but was told no one was available. Wednesday afternoon a spokesperson sent a response on behalf of OSU’s legal team saying,

“Information relating to individual students testing positive would be shared only on a need-to-know basis under the health and safety exception of FERPA.  For employees, the Oklahoma Open Records Act protects confidential medical information which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an employee’s privacy. This data would fall into that category.  Generally, persons who have been exposed are simply told “you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and you need to quarantine for 14 days.”   Again, the information is only being shared on a limited basis during a public health emergency.  OSU places a high priority on complying with laws governing the disclosure of personal private information.”

News 4 replied seeking further clarity on whether the location information, not necessarily whether an individual tested positive, could be accessed through an open records request.

OSU legal responded, saying, “As it pertains to students: location data is protected as an “education record” under FERPA (see 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, 34 C.F.R. Part 99). As it pertains to employees, the Oklahoma Open Records Act allows OSU to keep that information confidential because it would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. See 51 O.S. § 24A.7(A)(2). ‘“Oklahoma State University places a high priority on complying with laws governing the disclosure of personal private information. Personal information relating to individual students testing positive would be shared only on a need-to-know basis under the health and safety exception of FERPA.  For our employees, the Oklahoma Open Records Act protects confidential medical information which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an employee’s privacy.  As students and faculty return to campus over the next several days, we are following strict guidelines procedures and protocols prepared by public health experts to keep our campus community safe.”’

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