In a recent article published by the Associated Press in The Washington Post and The New York Times, the Future of Privacy Forum warns of the privacy risks of sharing information about positive COVID-19 tests among students, particularly student athletes who have already returned to campus to prepare for the upcoming sports season. Read an excerpt below and see the full article here.
Athletic programs sometimes avoid making formal injury announcements, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Both are designed to protect the privacy of an individual’s health records. The U.S. Education Department issued guidelines in March that said a school shouldn’t disclose personal identifiable information from student education records to the media even if it determines a health or safety emergency exists.
But is merely revealing a number going to enable anyone to identify which athletes tested positive? That’s up for debate.
Amelia Vance is the director of youth and education privacy at the Future Privacy Forum, a think tank dedicated to data privacy issues. Vance believes releasing the number of positive tests effectively informs the public without sacrificing privacy.
Vance said disclosing the number of positive tests for a certain team would help notify members of the general public who may have come into contact with the athletes and could serve as a guide to those schools that haven’t welcomed students back to campus yet.
“If you’re saying six students tested positive or a student was exposed and therefore we’re having the whole team tested or things like that, that wouldn’t probably be traced back to an individual student,” Vance said. “Therefore, neither (FERPA or HIPAA) is going to apply, so any claim that privacy laws wouldn’t allow that disclosure would be disingenuous.
“The key there is to balance the public interest with the privacy of the students,” she said. “Most of the time, the information colleges and universities need to disclose don’t require the identification of a particular student to the press or general public.”