NextGen political group gets students private information

NextGen Virginia describes itself as a progressive political group, and says its goal is to boost voter turnout in the November 7 elections.

Virginia Tech and Radford Universities say NextGen filed Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain students' cell phone numbers, permanent addresses, email addresses, and other personal information. 

This is a statement from Radford University Representatives:

“On Aug. 28, 2017, Radford University received a request from a representative of under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (“§2.2-3704 et seq.”) for “…an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that contain contact information for students at Radford University in the form of emails and phone numbers and addresses.”  On Sept. 1, Radford University responded with student directory information consistent with the Radford University Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Policy and in accordance with Virginia FOIA.”

This is the statement from Virginia Tech:

"FERPA allows for the designation of certain academic record information as “directory.” You can find more details related to directory information in the FERPA section on our website. It includes the provision that student Directory information will be withheld by the university if requested by the student."

Releasing the information to NextGen after the FOIA request is not illegal. However, many students are still uncomfortable that their information was given to this group, especially after some students say they received text messages about voter registration and certain candidates after the information was released.

"We gave it to the University, but we weren't expecting to just go out to other organizations," says Virginia Tech Freshman Joshua DelRosario.

"It's the wrong way to go about it," adds Virginia Tech Senior Allysah Fox. "If they're trying to reach out to people, that's not the way to do that. I'd rather speak to someone person to person rather than them contact me through my phone, and I have no idea who they are."

"If I got a text on my cellphone, that would be, I would be creeped out by that," says Virginia Tech Freshman William Cabell. "I would hope that candidate Hurst, he has employees on his campaign that are competent enough to realize they shouldn't be doing that. And they should respect people's personal privacy."

NextGen is an avid supporter of 12th District Delegate Candidate Chris Hurst. Hurst and NextGen reportedly have worked together to encourage young voters to register and increase voter turnout.

Hurst's opponent, Incumbent Delegate Joseph Yost, is calling for Hurst to denounce NextGen's actions, disassociate himself from the group, and not use the data obtained from the FOIA requests.

"Technically, what NextGen Virginia did is not illegal, but it is wrong," says Donald Rickard, Delegate Yost's Campain Manager. "There are certain things that may be legal, but it is just wrong."

Yost also released this statement about the situation.

In response to today's Roanoke Times editorial questioning the "creepy" factor of NextGen Virginia FOIA'ing Virginia Tech's and Radford University's student personal information, Delegate Joseph Yost issued the following statement:

"I am appalled that NextGen Virginia, a political organization, would FOIA our students' personal information for political uses.  This is an invasion of their privacy and, even if it is legal, it is blatantly wrong.  Students and parents should not be worried about how their or their child's private information is being used.  This information is given to the University for emergencies and to allow the University to contact students, not for personal gain by other individuals.  I will be working with our Universities in the next session to introduce legislation to make it abundantly clear that student information is not subject to FOIA requests, especially for personal gains." 

 "I could not agree more with the Roanoke Times classification of this as 'creepy' and, in light of these new revelations, Chris Hurst needs to answer the following questions about the use of their private information by one of his San Francisco billionaire donors to put students' and parents' minds at ease:

1) Will he condemn the use of the students' private information by a San Francisco billionaire for personal gain?

2) Has the Hurst Campaign been using this information and if so, for how long?

3) If he has been using this information, will he immediately stop using it and call for NextGen Virginia to not use this information for political reasons?"

Hurst had not replied to requests for an interview at the time this story was published.

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