Lawmakers are considering a proposal to make sure emails from University of Wyoming students are not accessible under the state’s Public Records Act.
University officials told a legislative panel last week that emails from students who use their UW-provided email accounts are sometimes considered to be open records that could be requested by members of the public.
Tara Evans, deputy general counsel for UW, said emails about grades or other student or classroom records are protected by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, better known as FERPA. She said the university also can withhold email if it considers them not in the public’s interest.
But since the student emails are using the university’s public servers and equipment, Evans said the emails are generally treated the same as those generated by UW employees.
Evans said requests for student emails are rare.
But one example, she said, is earlier this year when the Laramie Boomerang requested student emails that addressed a legislative proposal to allow guns on the campus.
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In this case, Evans said the university released emails between students and their student government representatives.
Several members of the Task Force on Digital Information Privacy were surprised to learn that this type of information was considered to be public record.
The lawmakers said they also were worried that the students are not aware of this or know about their expectation of privacy here.
That caused the group to ask legislative staff members to draft a bill to carve out a new exemption under the Public Records Act for UW students.
“I’m having a hard time seeing how their emails to their mothers and fathers are public,” said Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance. “I don’t think that has a compelling state interest.”
The task force is expected to decide whether to recommend the full Legislature take up the issue when the group meets again in late July.