Federal authorities investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have examined school records of a University at Buffalo student, a school official confirmed.
About 10 days ago, FBI agents, accompanied by university police, asked for information about a UB student, Registrar Joanne M. Plunkett said.
The requested information included the student's name, age and address, Plunkett said. The records were given to the federal authorities.
Plunkett would not provide The Buffalo News any information about the student, and whether the student is an American citizen or is studying in this country on a student visa remained unknown. Eleven percent of UB's students come from other countries.
But officials here and in Washington, D.C., say the request for UB records is part of an increased federal presence on college campuses following the terrorist attacks.
At least one of the suspects in the attacks entered this country on a student visa. Critics say terrorists can exploit weaknesses in the student visa system.
Federal investigators have contacted about 200 colleges and universities, seeking student records, a survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found.
Only one refused to turn over information. Because the survey was anonymous, no colleges were identified.
Universities must turn over records during "health and safety" emergencies, Plunkett said.
But the law is not always clear, and federal officials now are debating legislation setting guidelines on federal access to student records.
"Of course, we support this effort to try to eradicate terrorism," said Stephen C. Dunnett, UB's vice provost for international education. "But I'm also concerned about an infringement of civil liberties."
"We have a special obligation to protect students from, I think, unwarranted intrusion into their private records that we keep," said John M. Thomas, associate dean for international programs at UB's School of Management.
In interviews, a handful of students said they were concerned about the FBI request.
"I think it's an invasion of privacy," said Savita Loutan, 19, a sophomore from Brooklyn. "You can't just suspend privacy rights. There are laws you have to follow to get documents."
But generally, most students said the government has the right to look at student records.
"It doesn't seem like it was anything that confidential," said Sheryl Brooks, 20, a junior from Randolph.
Iclal Cetin, 24, a graduate student from Turkey, agreed but cautioned that security concerns can be taken too far.
"It scares me to think that this will go on and on and on forever," Cetin said. "I can't imagine being stopped three times a day and asked for my passport, my (educational papers) and asked random questions."
Zainab Baba, 21, a Kuwaiti student, said she would hate to see further limits on foreign students.
"They should make sure it doesn't prevent international students who are innocent from coming here to get a better education," Baba said.
To enter this country, students must be admitted to a college, then apply to the State Department for a visa. The federal government doesn't track whether those students enroll in college, nor whether they leave the country once they complete their studies, said Russ Bergeron, an Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman.
The federal government is considering establishing an electronic database to track everyone with a student visa.