Students’ personal information released

The middle two digits of Kyle H’s Social Security number is 39. The Northerner has this information because it was released in records obtained under state open records law from the Vice President of Student Affairs and General Counsel, Sara Sidebottom. Northern Kentucky University is not required to provide such personal information to records requests.

The release of personal information such as social security numbers may not be illegal. Kentucky case law, however, indicates that it is wise for state agencies like NKU to withhold such information.

“Those nine digits today represent no less than the keys to an information kingdom as it relates to any given individual,” the Kentucky Court of Appeals held in Zink v. Department of Workers Claims in 1994. That case held that under open records laws, a social security number should not be released, but instead redacted as personal information.

Legal Affairs has been inconsistent in its redactions, sometimes blacking out personal information such as Social Security numbers while other times failing to redact the records or inadequately attempted to redact the information.

After The Northerner received students’ Social Security numbers, staff members met with Sidebottom and informed her of this release of information. Sidebottom thanked the staff for informing her. She requested that the records to be released to staff that day be reviewed to see if similar information had not been redacted.

“It’s in here everywhere,” Cathy Dewberry, assistant to the vice president for legal affairs, said as she ran her black marker across each Social Security number. The Northerner staff members offered more time to Dewberry to complete the redactions, but she refused. However, later on, The Northerner looked at the records and could still, despite the attempted redaction, read the Social Security numbers of the students involved.

At no time did Sidebottom inquire which students’ information out of all the requests granted had been released. However, The Northerner has made efforts to contact each individual whose information has been compromised.

Sidebottom was unavailable for comment. However, Jay Manire, associate counsel, said that the Legal Affairs office had “no comment.”

Cassie Stone contributed to this report.