John Ashcroft's First Year as Attorney General

Other Reduced Privacy Protections

The Ashcroft proposal sought greater access to student records. It would have amended the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to permit access to educational records in the investigation of domestic or international terrorism, or national security.21 According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, student and college advocates were worried that the language was so broad and vague that it would permit federal officials to access student records with little or no evidence that they had any connection to terrorism. The plan would have allowed any employee of the Department of Justice or the Department of Education to seek the confidential information.22

The Ashcroft proposal also called for expanding FBI access to business records, such as those from airlines, car rentals and hotels, by removing a judicial review process that had been put in place when the FBI's access to business records was expanded in 1998.23 Another section would have allowed greater FBI access to banking, credit and other records of consumers or groups who are not agents of foreign powers.24

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., noted the historically inappropriate use of such information during a September Congressional hearing: "[O]ne of the problems we've seen historically is the inappropriate release of information garnered by surveillance, and one of the worst instances in history was the savage campaign of defamation waged by J. Edward Hoover as head of the FBI against Dr. Martin Luther King, taking information he gained from surveillance, having found nothing criminal, nothing subversive, nothing incriminating."25

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