Privacy Laws Should Be Changed


Privacy Laws Should Be Changed


By: Alex Sanders
Posted: 4/25/07
Once the chaos at Virginia Tech subsided, students began to seek answers. Questions rapidly arose after authorities discovered Cho Seung-Hui was the cause of the tragedy. Of course, one of the first questions was, why did he do it? Immediately after the shooting, the university worked with the authorities, sifting through student interviews and Cho's medical history, to figure out what could have possibly influenced somebody to carry out the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. ABC News reported, "in December 2005 - more than a year before Monday's mass shootings - a district court in Montgomery County, Va., ruled that Cho presented "an imminent danger to self or others." That was the necessary criterion for a detention order, so that Cho ... could be evaluated by a state doctor and ordered to undergo outpatient care." However, while receiving outpatient care, the doctor specifically evaluated him as a threat to himself due to mental illness, and not a threat to others. Because of this, his records were kept confidential and by law, the university didn't have a right to know, and they certainly didn't have the right to pull him out of school. This case provides significant evidence that privacy laws concerning mental illness need to be changed.

We will never really know if the Virginia Tech shootings could have been prevented, but if the privacy laws concerning mental illness are altered, it is highly unlikely that a shooting of this nature will occur again. Numerous signs pointed to Cho as a possible danger. He had complaints of stalking and sending threatening messages, thinking suicidal thoughts, and writing violent stories. Granted, the state cannot remove a student from school for being troubled or behaving oddly, but they should at least be allowed to alert the university. Instead of strict privacy laws, counseling centers and state institutions should be able to flag students with suspicious behavior or concerning mental illness symptoms. They do not have to breach confidentiality by explaining symptoms or problems, but they can subtly and vaguely alert the university so that it can keep an eye on the student. This way, the school is safe rather than sorry.

In Cho's case, I think confidentiality should have been violated, and I also think it should be violated in the future if necessary. If a few people suspect odd behavior in a student, that may be a cause to alert the university and have them watch the student closely. But in Cho's case, numerous people noticed his odd behavior and almost tangible rage expressed through his macabre writing. Because so many people noticed Cho's behavior, the university should have been alerted of his full symptoms. Although it is a breach of confidentiality, it could have possibly saved 32 lives. Consider the fact Cho committed suicide after the massacre. Once deceased, confidentiality is no longer an issue. Hence, if a student is suspected suicidal or homicidal, confidentiality should most certainly be breached. Privacy should not matter when others' lives are at risk

Cho fit the typical profile of someone who is homicidal. His personality was identical to other school shooters. According to CBS News, a study was done after the Columbine massacre showing a pattern in the personalities of the shooters. "Most school attacks come from loners with some kind of grievance," the report said. Many attackers felt bullied or persecuted by others, the study also said. More than half had revenge as a motive."

Cho, like the shooters at Columbine, was seeking some sort of revenge. Cho did not make it clear against whom he was seeking revenge, but his writings told of an allegedly fictional pedophilic and homicidal stepfather. In his story, he devoted a paragraph to condemning his stepfather to death. The story reads, "Must kill Dick. Must kill Dick. Dick must die." Although writing is therapeutic, and it is healthy to express pent-up anger through writing, the rage the expressed was nearly palpable; he did not simply show vivid emotions.

Additionally, many students do not express such violent thoughts in school assignments. Many write in a journal so they are able to express their thoughts while keeping their emotions private. The expression of Cho's violent thoughts should be seen as a cry for help or a warning rather than a simple worry about emotional problems.

If privacy laws are changed, tragic massacres like the one that occurred at Virginia Tech can be prevented. I am not saying that confidentiality laws are pointless, but there are ways state mental institutions and counseling centers can compromise with the university or school. Counselors already warn students that they may have to take action if they suspect suicide or homicide. They should add schools and universities to the list of people alerted to the patient's condition. Even if counselors do not have proof of suicide or homicide, they should have the right to legally disclose suspicions to the university. Many people will not outwardly admit they are suicidal or homicidal, but they may give hints. Because of this, it is much safer for counselors to hedge their bets on suspicions rather than to risk students' lives. Unfortunately, school shootings are becoming ever more common. Because of this, we need an updated privacy policy that simultaneously ensures pubic safety while keeping some form of confidentiality in effect.


Original Source:<a href=>The Daily Campus - April 25, 2007</a>


Alex Sanders


The Daily Campus




Sara AA Hood


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Alex Sanders, “Privacy Laws Should Be Changed,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 18, 2024,