The brand-newly created federal Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking (CEP) held a public hearing in Washington, D.C. a few days ago.
The testimony of Emmett McGroarty of the American Principles Project (APP) stood out from the other testimonies that were presented, and is posted in full below, with permission from APP. Many of the other organizations whose representatives testified do financially benefit from the privacy-stomping, data-mining, gold rush, including the Data Quality Campaign, American Institutes for Research, etc. But APP does not. APP exists to maintain local control, constitutional rights, and individual privacy rights.
On the video, Mr. Emmett McGroarty of APP testifies at about hour 2:45 to 3:07. To see the agenda of who else was slated to testify at this hearing, click this link: final-cep-oct-21-agenda_updated-1
We urge the Commission to resist calls to repeal the statutory prohibition on the development, implementation, or maintenance of a federal student unit-record system. Such a system would curtail liberty interests of the individual, would invite the collection and use of ever-more data, and would fundamentally alter the relationship between the individual and government in a way that is incompatible with our constitutional republic.
Statement by Emmett J. McGroarty, JD
The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking was created to pursue a laudable goal: To improve analysis of the effectiveness of federal programs. But when such a pursuit is used to justify collecting, conglomerating, and tracking massive amounts of Americans’ personal data, as is certainly true in the realm of education, it’s necessary to examine the dangers and the tradeoffs. American Principles Project (APP) believes that such activities suppress the liberties of the people and pervert the relationship between the people and government. We urge the Commission to reject calls to establish a federal student unit-record system and to engage in such Orwellian activity.
Section 134 of the Higher Education Act wisely prohibits the development, implementation, or maintenance of a federal student unit-record system (one that would allow the government to collect personally identifiable information (PII) on individual higher-education students and link education data to workforce data). Recently, though, an orchestrated demand for repeal of this prohibition has been swelling. According to well-funded organizations with a vested interest in accessing that data for their own purposes, the federal government suffers from data-deprivation. Think how much more efficiently our nation could operate, and how much more the government could help people run their own lives, if it maintained a centralized repository tracking almost every conceivable data point about every citizen – where he attended school, what courses he took, what grades he earned, what extracurricular record (good or bad) he compiled, what jobs he applied for, what jobs he got, what salary he made, whether he was promoted, what salary he earned in his new position, whether he lost his job and why, whether he joined the military, what sort of military record he established, whether he was arrested and for what, whether he went to jail, and on and on ad infinitum.
This is not a description of a free and open United States of America. This is a description of a totalitarian society that keeps tabs on its own citizens – for their own good, of course. It’s also a description of what would inevitably happen with the establishment of a student unit-record system, all in the name of “better consumer information,” “accountability,” and “transparency.”
What’s wrong with a federal unit-tracking system?
First, it would compile students’ personally identifiable information (PII) without their consent – or even their knowledge that their data is being collected and disclosed. It’s one thing to collect data from a student who voluntarily (which of course presumes actual notice of the program) participates in a government program and understands that participation will expose his PII to program administrators; it’s quite another to forcibly suck every individual into a datacollection system simply because he enrolled in an institution of higher education. Telling that student that he must hand over his personal data to promote a greater good as defined by bureaucrats and lobbyists – or even worse, just dragooning him without telling him anything – is simply un-American.
Second, the purposes of the proposed system would be so open-ended that the repository is certain to be expanded over time to centralize data far beyond collegiate and employment data. In the creative bureaucratic mind, literally everything can be linked to education. So why stop with employment data? Why not see how one’s education affects his participation in the military? Or his health? Or his criminality? Or his housing patterns? Or the number of children he has? Or whether he purchases a gun? Or his political activity? Inquiring bureaucrats want to know, and every question can be justified by citing “better consumer information.”
And will this dossier created on every citizen become permanent? Presumably so. If the goal of providing maximum consumer information is to be achieved, both historical and current data – constantly updated and expanded – must be compiled and preserved.
Perhaps this expansion won’t happen. Perhaps the federal government, in stark contrast to its behavior over the last 100 years, will stay within its boundaries. But reality-based Americans know the government will push the envelope as far as it possibly can, as it always does. And they know that giving that government access to such a treasure trove of data is dangerous to privacy and to individual liberty.
Third, the idea that this massive repository of PII will be protected against unauthorized access and data breaches is quite simply delusional. Less than a year ago, a hearing of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform revealed the shocking lack of student-data security throughout the U.S. Department of Education (USED). The problems encompass both lax controls over the people allowed access to sensitive data, as well as outdated technology and inadequate security to prevent unauthorized access.
USED’s system contains over 139 million Social Security numbers (largely through its office of Financial Student Aid), along with sensitive borrower information about students and families contained in the National Student Loan Database. The findings of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the General Accounting Office were disturbing:
- Of the 97,000 account/users with access to this information (government employees and contractors), fewer than 20 percent have undergone a background check to receive a security clearance.
- The security mechanisms protecting that data are grossly inadequate. As one OIG witness testified, “During our testing . . . OIG testers were able to gain full access to the Department’s network and our access went undetected by Dell [the vendor] and the Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer.”
- USED ignored repeated warnings from OIG that its information systems are vulnerable to security threats.
That the federal government should now consider ballooning the sensitive data contained in these insecure systems is at best misguided and reckless.
Even if the data systems were secure, the Obama administration’s gutting of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) means that government education officials (federal, state, and local) now have enormous leeway to disclose PII on individual students without their consent. Pursuant to the recent FERPA regulations, these officials may share private PII with other government agencies, nonprofit entities, corporations, researchers, and literally anyone on the planet as long as the disclosure can be characterized as an audit or evaluation of a (broadly defined) “education program.”
Will the new conglomeration of student data be fair game for disclosure under these regulations? The danger is too real to dismiss.
The philosophical problem with a federal student unit-record system is that it treats free-born American citizens as objects of research and study. It assumes that the goal of benefitting others in society, in vague and theoretical ways, authorizes the powerful federal government to collect and disseminate millions of data points on individuals – without their consent. This fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and government. Collecting and holding massive amounts of data about an individual has an intimidating effect on the individual—even if the data is never used. This is even more so the case when the collector has the force of the law behind it. Our republic rests on the idea that the citizen will direct government. That cannot happen where government sits in a position of intimidation over the individual.
Emmett J. McGroarty, Esq.
American Principles Project
Here’s a P.S. to all of the above from me, Christel, because I am absolutely screeching and screaming over this and wish more people would get it, would speak up and would speak out.
It does not take a brilliant lawyer to understand how wrong this is– although it’s nice to have the brilliant Mr. Emmett McGroarty, and words cannot describe the debt that freedom lovers owe to APP and McGroarty.
But this unit-record identifier issue is not, at heart, complicated, nor should it be the least bit intimidating –to anyone in this country, of any age or occupation. Get involved. Say something.
Ask people to think:
Who holds the keys and drives education? It should be those closest to each individual child: the parents, the teachers, and the principal. They are the most accountable and care the most.
But today, because “We, the People” collectively have not been paying attention, corporations and governments have taken too much power over DATA –and that’s daily increasing. If CEP goes in the direction that it seems to be going, then soon, individual student record identifiers will track individuals so that governments and corporations can “see” and “help” us all. Heaven save us from that kind of help.
The federal and corporate push for ever more individual data is supposedly to improve education and workplaces for the children, but this agenda does not seem to serve children, but to treat them as “human capital” –experiments, worker bees and lab rats, while making certain groups unbelievably rich, meaning rich both in money itself, and also rich in data –which in our day equals money.
Our country went through the land rush, the gold rush, but now it’s the data rush.
Now it’s data mining instead of strip mining.
WE are the ones being mined—by BigGov-BigBiz-BigEd.
If the push for personally identifiable information sharing succeeds fully, we will not own ourselves.
The sweetest and most naiive among us are thinking, “It’s okay if the corporations and governments know everything about me, about my children, my finances, my religious beliefs, gun rights, sexual morality beliefs and more– because I don’t do anything wrong.
By whose definition do you not do anything wrong? Do your values and beliefs match those of the government’s so perfectly that you can trust its judgment and its interventions over your own?
Think about what’s going on.
To the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, you are now labled WRONG if you believe in God, because religious doctrine of any kind is only a “pretext” to discriminate on the basis of racism, sexism, etc. That’s your federal government judging your “social emotional learning” right there!
To gun control advocates at the state and federal levels, you are not concerned about “supporting nonviolence” if you own a gun.
To the federal political activists of the LGTB movement, you are either a discriminator or mentally unwell if you promote marriage between a man and a woman.
And now that SEL (Social Emotional Learning) standards for K-12 are being developed and promoted to track “non-cognitive” factors, starting on children and moving into the workplace, it seems not even our personal psychology is to be permitted to be private any longer. What types of emotions or beliefs or traditions are mentally or socially “at-risk” and by whose definition? When we give up power over our own data privacy, we give up at least some control over our own judgments of values.
What makes us certain that the world that federal SEL activists and the CEP Commission wants is the same world that I or you or other free people want? Just look at what the federal activists are doing! Don’t give them more power over us!
As Dr. Karen Effrem and Jane Robbins recently pointed out at The Federalist:
“The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) …requires rating schools based partly on “nonacademic” factors. ESSA … pours money into SEL programs, “which may include engaging or supporting families at school or at home” … training school personnel on “when and how to refer… children with, or at risk of, mental illness,” and implementing programs for children… “at-risk” of academic or social problems, without ever defining “at-risk” …ESSA language urges school officials to cast a wide net for special education in school-wide “intervention” and “support” programs, allowing schools to sidestep parental consent requirements. [There’s a] planned revision of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test referred to as “the nation’s report card,” to assess mindsets and school climate… [There’s] funding for federally controlled and funded “social emotional research” in the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA)—a bill supported by individuals and corporations that will profit handsomely from all this sensitive data to help them mold worker bees for the global economy… A third federal initiative is USED’s bribery of states to promote SEL standards and data-gathering on preschool children via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. These grants, along with the preschool grants in ESSA and Head Start, promote “Baby Common Core”-style SEL standards and data-collection.”
Please find a way to stand up and say no to the call for using “Unit-Record Identifiers,” no matter what the reasoning may be. Say yes to personal privacy, personal responsibility, and to family-based, individual-based, local control of social and emotional and academic and religious values.