Editorial – Texts to student phone numbers obtained via FOI request not a violation

Students at several of the commonwealth’s public universities got a surprise on their cell phones last fall: A text message urged them to register to vote, and to support the local Democrat running for the House of Delegates.

The students’ cell phone numbers were obtained through a Freedom of Information request made by NextGen Virginia, a group of left-leaning political operatives. The group obtained student directories from Virginia Tech, Radford, James Madison and VCU, among others.

The registration push worked, and many students signed up to vote. No doubt these new Virginia voters helped to contribute to the blue wave in November when the Dems made great inroads in the House.

Some students didn’t like what they saw as an intrusion, however. Some parents, who foot the bill for the phone plans, didn’t like it either.

What NextGen did was entirely legal within the Freedom of Information Act. And use of student information to sell something has been a long-standing practice. The data usually came from a printed student directory; the company seeking to use the info merely had to rekey it to create a usable database.

But several members of the House, many of them Republicans, didn’t like NextGen’s access to the database. One legislator, Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, took action.

Wilt pre-filed the very first bill of the 2018 session, House Bill 1, on Nov. 20. It’s a measure that purports to solve the problem of student data use. It’s a lot more than that.

In fact, if the old saw is true, that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, put on your best asbestos suit and pack a fan. Read more…