A news bomb about the theft of student data exploded in Utah’s Deseret News last July, but nobody noticed, apparently.
The article’s headline — “Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Utah Autism Rates” — focused primarily on things other than the data theft. It highlighted former University of Utah research professor Judith Zimmerman’s allegations that university researchers were falsifying Utah’s autism rates.
But to me, the unheadlined bomb that the article dropped was the 750,000 students who had their data and their families’ data stolen by unauthorized “researchers”. The families now have no way of knowing this happened.
Zimmerman was fired for raising concerns about protected student data that she said the researchers had “compromised and accessed without proper authority.” She told the Deseret News that unauthorized individuals took 750,000 sensitive records with neither parental nor schools’ consent. This private “medical and educational information” included “names, birthdays, information about medical characteristics… special education classification and parents’ names and addresses,” reported the Deseret News.
How would these families now be notified? I wonder: with the whistleblower fired and with a years-long lawsuit and likely gag orders pending, the only people who now could potentially contact those families would be still employed at the university –who, being accused of the wrongdoing, certainly won’t go out of their way to inform the affected families right now.
I’m not going to discuss the ways in which the stolen records, and the children they represented, are vulnerable to potential crimes of credit card fraud, health insurance identity theft, crimes of predatory stalkers or the mandates of well-or-ill-intentioned governmental activists.
I’m here to ask –and answer– a very simple question that I hope readers are asking: how could this have happened? How were three quarters of a million records of children just lying around under the noses of any unscrupulous university researchers?
You, your children, and your grandchildren are in the SLDS whether you like it or not –unless you pay 100% of your own money in tuition for a 100% private school, and always have. There is no other way to opt out. I’ve tried.
Don’t get me started about how blindly stupid Utah is (all states now are) for having –and continuing to support– the SLDS.
We’re subject to this SLDS data surveillance system simply because in some USOE cubicle, some clueless grant writer responded to Obama’s mess of pottage and decided that the state of Utah might exchange students’ privacy for a $9.6 million dollar federal grant.
Utah traded all students’ data records, longitudinally (permanently) into this data-slurping machine, euphemistically titled the State Longitudinal Database System, which the feds designed and oversaw— all for the love of money and nonconsensual research.
Without parental consent, Utah children’s data now is daily being collected –using schools to vaccum it up. This is not a legitimate situation, but you can’t blame schools. They are being used. They have to give daily data to the state/fed system, or they lose funds/grind to a halt. In a recent Utah rulemaking statement, we read: “all public education LEAs shall begin submitting daily updates to the USOE Clearinghouse using all School Interoperability Framework (SIF) objects defined in the UTREx Clearinghouse specification. Noncompliance with this requirement may result in interruption of MSP funds.”
So we can’t believe the ear candy we’re told, about how this data mining is about keeping data on kids so teachers can do their best teaching. It’s not staying in the local school for teachers and administrators to legitimately peruse, but it goes into the federally designed, federally interoperable SLDS database held at UECP/U of U which many state agencies can peruse and which the feds can already partially peruse.
(Side note: the feds are feverishly working to get much greater unit-record access as we speak. If you’re interested, livestream the CEP’s federal public hearing on that subject today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvvatB_NBWI )
Every state has an SLDS system. The feds paid the states to build them. The feds told the states how the SLDS’s had to be built. Utah got nearly $10 million to make Utah’s federal SLDS in 2009. And the grant’s been renewed to keep trading cash for students, in recent years.
Utah children and their families thus have their data sucked away to where unelected, unaccountable “researchers” are entrusted with data via SLDS. The University’s “Utah Education Policy Center” (UEPC) is a founding partner in the Utah Data Alliance, which controls Utah’s SLDS system. According to UEPC’s website:
“Five other partners include the Utah State Office of Education (public education), Utah System of Higher Education, Utah College of Applied Technology, Utah Education Network, and the Department of Workforce Services. UEPC serves as the research coordinator for the Utah Data Alliance. UEPC coordinates access for individuals and organizations interested in collaborating with the Utah Data Alliance, or researchers interested in accessing data for research purposes.”
That’s a long answer to a short question. That’s how the data got stolen.
Here’s the follow up question: what’s keeping the other millions of records of students from going the same way that those 750,000 records went?
Ask your legislator that question. Ask him/her to show you any proper privacy protections that are actually in place. (FERPA was shredded; don’t let them pretend there’s protection anymore under FERPA.)
We do not even have the freedom to opt out of SLDS tracking. But all of this can change– if more good people speak up– act.
How did the fox persuade the gingerbread boy to get on his back? The fox said that he would never eat him, but would surely protect the gingerbread boy from everyone who was trying to eat him on the dangerous side of the river.
On shore stood the hungry horse, the farmer, the dog, the others– and the fox said that he could help the gingerbread boy to get away. The fox protected the gingerbread boy like the federal government is protecting your child’s personal data.
Every time I read an official promise like this recent CEP statement (and there are so many; even the federal alterations to FERPA sounded like the CEP statement) –I think of the gingerbread boy. The CEP (federal “Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking”) promises that the government only wants more individual “data in order to build evidence about government programs, while protecting privacy and confidentiality.” I think of the fox “protecting” the gingerbread boy.
That fox wanted to eat the boy just as much as the dog and the farmer and everyone else did. Even the gingerbread boy probably suspected it, but he really, really wanted to cross that river.
When the government says that it can and will protect privacy while accessing greater amounts of data, I think:
River = money
Gingerbread boy = a child’s sensitive data
Horse = educational sales corporations
Farmer = educational researchers
Fox = federal government
Dog= state government
The oven where the boy was born = SLDS database