I have mixed feelings about this law because I can relate to the concerns of this law's supporters and critics. Balancing the various concerns isn't easy, but it is imperative.
A new law requiring Virginia's colleges to hand over prospective students' personal information to police for cross-checking against sex offender lists is coming under fire from privacy advocates and education leaders. Under the law, which takes effect July 1, public and private college officials must send state police the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of all students accepted to their schools.
Proponents say the law will help protect students from sex offenders and state police are confident the personal information will be secure. But critics are raising concerns about privacy rights and risks that the data could be misused or stolen.
If colleges are going to do more than ask whether an applicant has a felony conviction, there are a wide range of non-sexual criminal convictions that may seriously endanger the safety of other students. For example, an applicant with a history of arson, stalking or dangerous hazing.
The other issue is related to socio-economic status. An incoming student from a higher income family who was arrested for the same type of sex crime is more likely to have had a defense team that could either beat the charges or make a plea deal so the defendant avoids registering as a sex offender.
There's a good chance that the most dangerous students may appear, on paper, to be squeaky clean. If that's the case, this law could make schools believe they've done all the prevention work they need to do. They may decide there is no need for education that some parents and students find uncomfortable or politically charged.
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