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Confidential Information

Updated: 01/21/2015

State and federal laws govern the confidentiality of information maintained by NC State.  These laws apply to traditional hard-copy information, computer or digital information, as well as information stored in other forms of media.

Below is a list of some types of information that are often designated as confidential.  The information provided on this website is intended only as illustrative information and is not legal advice. In addition, you should always contact the University Records Officer in the Office of General Counsel when dealing with legal questions relating to records.

  1. Social Security Numbers
  2. Personnel Files
  3. Student Records
  4. Non-Disclosure Agreements
  5. Trade Secrets
  6. Medical Records
  7. Disability Records
  8. Research Information

Additional information concerning Laws Relating to Confidential Records Held by North Carolina Government.

Information concerning how to prevent or remedy an unauthorized disclosure.

Social Security Numbers

Federal law imposes conditions on the collection and use of Social Security Numbers. The UNC Board of Governors has set out the requirements in section XII E of its Administrative Manual.  The requirements include the following:

Requesting a Social Security Number

A “request by an employee of the University of North Carolina [including NC State University] for disclosure and release of a Social Security Number with respect to University business for a use not previously authorized shall be supported by a University statement to the individual indicating (a) whether the disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, (b) what statutory or other authority supports the disclosure, and (c) what use will be made of the disclosure.”

Using a Social Security Number

Any University use of a Social Security Number shall fall within those uses authorized by federal law for mandatory disclosure or be a use where the individual is requested to voluntarily disclose the number and does voluntarily disclose for that particular use.

Uses of the Social Security Number authorized by federal law for mandatory disclosure from the individual consist only of the following:

  • disclosure required by federal statute
  • disclosure to a federal, state, or local governmental agency maintaining a system of records in existence and operating before January 1, 1975, if such disclosure was required under statute or regulation adopted prior to January 1, 1975.
  • disclosure to any state, political subdivision or agency to establish personal identification pursuant to administration of a tax law, a general public assistance law, a driver’s license law, or a motor vehicle registration law within the jurisdiction of the state or political subdivision.

North Carolina Law on Social Security Numbers

In addition to the foregoing requirements, the University must safeguard Social Security Numbers and other identifying information in accord with the State’s Identity Theft Protection Act and related laws.  Collection and use of Social Security Numbers is allowed only where essential for University operations.  Moreover, North Carolina law imposes additional regulations concerning the use of Social Security Numbers.  For additional information see NC Identity Theft Law and Remedy for Accidental Disclosure of Personal Information.

Medical Records

Medical records maintained by the university (for students and employees) are confidential.

Family Medical Leave Records

Records pertaining to an employee’s status under the Family Medical Leave Act must be kept separate from other employee records, and are confidential.

Disability Records

Records pertaining to a person's disability must be kept separate from other student or employee records, and are confidential.

Research Information

Some research data may constitute confidential information.  Reasons for confidentiality may include (1) the possibility that research results could form the basis for a patent claim, (2) the need to prevent others from using the data to publish on a subject when the research was performed at or through NC State, or (3) there is a federal regulation or agreement for non-disclosure.  Additionally, a North Carolina court has held that information that identifies researchers may be kept confidential if its release could subject them to harassment.

North Carolina Statute specifically exempts "[r]esearch data, records, or information of a proprietary nature, produced or collected by or for state institutions of higher learning in the conduct of commercial, scientific or technical research where data, records, or information has not been patented, published, or copyrighted" from being public records. (N.C.G.S. § 116-43.17)

The determination of whether research data is confidential will be made by the Office of General Counsel in consultation with the person responsible for developing and securing the data.

Unauthorized Disclosure of Confidential Information

In 2005 the N.C. General Assembly passed an Identity Theft Protection Act.  It requires State agencies to safeguard Social Security Numbers and “other identifying information.”  The law imposes restrictions on university collection and use of Social Security Numbers and also requires notice be given when a Social Security Number or other identifying data is disclosed to an unauthorized person.  See NC Identity Theft Law and Remedy for Accidental Disclosure of Personal Information for more details.