Personally Identifiable Information Set Loose By Dept. of Education   Leave a comment

Q:  Will personally identifiable student data now be allowed to be given out by schools with governmental and nongovernmental entities, both in-state and out of state? 

A: YES.  Unless E.P.I.C. wins its lawsuit against the Department of Education, or unless Congress polices the Department of Education which is overstepping its authority, federal FERPA regulations will remain as they are, as they have been for about six months, which is extremely loose on who can access data and totally unconcerned with whether or not schools get parental consent before releasing that data. Here’s the evidence:

The Federal Register outlines, on page 51, that it is no longer a necessity for a school to get student’s or parent’s consent before sharing personally identifiable information; that action has been reduced to optional: “It is a best practice to keep the public informed when you disclose personally identifiable information from education records.”  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf

Dec. 2011 regulations, which the Dept. of Education made without Congressional approval and for which they are now being sued by EPIC, literally loosen, rather than strengthen, parental consent rules and other rules.  http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=5aa4af34-8e67-4f42-8e6b-fe801c512c7a

A lawyer at EPIC disclosed that these privacy intrusions affect not only children, but anyone who ever attended any college or university (that archives records, unless it is a privately funded university.)

Because the 2011 changes stretch and redefine terms like “authorized representative” and “educational program” to include nongovernmental agencies and many additional governmental agencies, effectively, there is no privacy regulation governing schools anymore, on the federal level. (Thanks to Utah legislators who are on the case, we might soon have stronger privacy laws existing to protect Utahns from the new federal intrusion.)

The types of information that the Department will collect includes so much more than academic information: it includes biometric information (DNA, fingerprints, iris patterns) and parental income, nicknames, medical information, extracurricular information, and much more. The federal government’s own websites make this clear.  See page 4 at  http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/pdf/ferparegs.pdf and see http://nces.sifinfo.org/datamodel/eiebrowser/techview.aspx?instance=studentPostsecondary

Utah, like every other state, agreed to build a federally-funded State Longitudinal Database System. This SLDS exists for the purpose of sharing data —not only among state agencies but from the state to the US Dept. of Ed. The SLDS also exists to “manage” and “disaggregate” educational information within the state.

Evidence:  A briefing was given in Utah, August 2010 by John Brandt, who is the USOE Technology Director and a member of the federal Dept. of Education, a member of the federal NCES, and a chair member of CCSSO (an organization that helped develop and promote the Common Core national standards.) On page 5 of Brandt’s online powerpoint, he explains that student records and transcripts can be used from school districts to the USOE or USHE “and beyond,” and can also be shared between the USOE and the US Department of Education.

Utah’s P-20 workforce council exists to track citizens starting in preschool, and to “forge organizational and technical bonds and to build the data system needed to make informed decisions” for stakeholders both in and outside Utah. — http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/2/prweb9201404.htm

The linking of data from preschool to postsecondary and on workforce, both locally and to D.C., allows agencies easy access, both technologically and in terms of the altered federal policies (Despite having been altered without authority by the Dept. of Ed., they have been altered and at least in my school district, people are abiding by those alterations.)

The SLDS and P-20 systems were paid for by the federal government and they do transform the way student/citizen data is shared– but remember, the federally stated purpose for all the data gathering is educational research– yet this also allows the state and federal governments to track, steer and even punish teachers, students and long ago-graduated citizens, very easily. http://cte.ed.gov/docs/NSWG/Workforce_Data_Brief.pdf    

Data linking changes are not just technological in nature; there are also changes being made in regulations and policies that make former privacy protection policies all but meaningless.  The changes are so outrageous, harming parental consent law and privacy concerns so much that the Department of Education has been sued over it. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the Dept. of Education, under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that the Dept. of Ed’s regulations that changed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act in Dec. 2011 exceeded the Department of Education’s authority and are contrary to law. http://epic.org/apa/ferpa/default.html

The Federal Register of December 2011 outlines the Dept. of Education’s regulations, that now decrease parental involvement but increase the number of agencies that may have access to private student data: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-12-02/pdf/2011-30683.pdf  (See page 52-57)

Although the Federal Register describes countless agencies, programs and “authorities” that may access personally identifiable student information, it does not use mandatory language.  The obligatory language comes up in the Cooperative Agreement between the Department of Education and the SBAC, the states’ testing consortium –of which Utah is still a member: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop-assessment/sbac-cooperative-agreement.pdf

In that document, states are obligated to share data with the federal government “on an ongoing basis,” to give status reports, phone conferences and other information, and must synchronize tests “across consortia”. This triangulation nationalizes the testing system and puts the federal government in the middle of the data collecting program.

For more information about the history of similar actions taken by the federal Dept. of Education that infringe upon state law and freedom, see the white paper by ROPE (Restore Oklahoma Public Education) entitled “Analysis of Recent Education Reforms and the Resulting Impact on Student Privacy”  —  http://www.scribd.com/doc/94149078/An-Analysis-of-Recent-Education-Reforms-and-the-Resulting-Impact-on-Student-Privacy

What motivates the federal government to make these changes?  Read some of US Dept. of Education Arne Duncan’s or Obama’s speeches that show the passion with which the federal agency seeks access to data to control teachers and educational decisions. http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/06/06082009.pdf

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