College Campus Tattle-Tales: Danger to Privacy, Free Speech at Univ. of North Georgia

Updated: Aug 6

UPDATE (August 5, 2020): As SLF explains in its follow-up letter to the University of North Georgia today, shortly after SLF pointed out the constitutional infirmities with the policy, UNG amended its COVID-19 Concern Form to clarify how it intends to use the information gathered from students. SLF's initial letter (see below) pointed out potential constitutional free speech, freedom of association, and privacy issues with the school's original "tattle-tale" form.

National news outlet Just The News reported on the school's change.

According to the new COVID-19 Safety Concern Report, UNG Dean of Students will only use COVID reports to offer health resources and support to symptomatic students. SLF is hopeful that this means UNG will not use the reporting scheme to infringe on students’ First and Fourth Amendment rights, nor will it allow other students to do so. However, SLF remains vigilant in the fight for students’ constitutional rights as they return to college campuses across the nation.  

DAHLONEGA, GA (July 26, 2020): On behalf of concerned citizens, Southeastern Legal Foundation sent a letter to the University of North Georgia (UNG) demanding that the school clarify its newest policy allowing students to report any other student to the Dean of Students for COVID-19 symptoms through a “Concern Form.”

Although colleges need to take certain measures to protect members of the community from COVID-19, UNG has gone too far. UNG allows any student to report any other student to the Dean of Students for COVID-19 symptoms through a “Concern Form.” The category of students who can be reported is limitless; based on the language of the reporting form, a student can report a friend of a friend of a friend who complains of a headache.

In the midst of today’s “cancel culture,” it is also certainly within the realm of possibility that students at UNG could abuse the form to silence other students. If students wish to prevent a speaker from visiting campus, or to stop a potentially controversial event from happening, all they need to do is report a student organization as having COVID-19. Entire events can be shut down at the press of a button; students don’t even need to show up to shout down a speaker anymore. SLF General Counsel Kimberly Hermann explains: “UNG’s Concern Form not only has the potential to violate students’ right of privacy, but is also unconstitutionally vague as a means to censor student speech.”

The UNG Concern Form also likely infringes on Fourth Amendment rights against searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has held that forcing an individual to undergo a DNA cheek swab violates the Fourth Amendment unless it is supported by criminal charges and probable cause. Subjecting a student to a much more invasive COVID-19 swab would certainly violate the Fourth Amendment. But without further clarification about how UNG plans to enforce these reports, it is unclear whether students will be forced to undergo COVID-19 tests.

It is imperative that UNG clarifies its plans to investigate and enforce this reporting scheme.

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