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You have the right to remain silent

The blogosphere is abuzz with the story of an American University student, Ben Wetmore, being persecuted by school officials because he was a "gadfly" (generally, a euphemism for "jerk"). He had been critical of the university's administration, and then when they found an excuse to punish him -- for videotaping a speech by Tipper Gore -- they jumped on the opportunity.

A ridiculous abuse of authority by the school, of course. But what caught my eye was this quote, from the university's director of Judicial Affairs and Mediation Services:

Kurita said she could not discuss the specifics of Wetmore's case due to confidentiality requirements.
Rules on privacy were ostensibly intended to protect the weak. Schools and government agencies shouldn't release "customer" records without their consent. Children shouldn't have their names splashed across the front page when they're involved in a legal matter.

But in a classic example of the law of unintended consequences, these laws are used every day, not to protect citizens, but rather to shield bureaucrats from accountability. Child Welfare does nothing to prevent an abused child from being killed. Child Welfare's excuse? None; they "can't discuss it" because of confidentiality rules. Accountability? None; we don't find out who was responsible and what actions they took. A school railroads a student? The student complains. The school's explanation? None. They "can't discuss it."

Does it sound as if Wetmore wants the details of his case to be private? He approached the media. He told the story publicly. Once he does that, the school shouldn't be able to hide behind "confidentiality." These laws are supposed to keep personal data private, not to keep government actions secret. If they're being used to avoid accountability, they need to be rewritten.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 24, 2002 9:15 AM.

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