WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 14, 2010
Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee’s senior Republican member, today warned sensitive student information could be at risk through vast data warehouses that collect private, personally identifiable information on school children. The committee heard testimony on the risks to students’ personal information during a hearing on data collection in the K-12 education system.
“Today’s hearing reinforces the need for federal, state, and local policymakers to ensure sensitive personal information about our children is safeguarded, and student and family privacy rights are protected. Efforts to collect vast troves of information on our students, tracking them from cradle to career, raise serious concerns,” said Kline. “Information on student performance, while important to a child’s success in the classroom and ensuring we have the best teachers serving in our schools, should not supersede our responsibility to protect a student’s personal information.”
The committee heard testimony from Professor Joel Reidenberg, academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at the Fordham University School of Law, who shared his research into security weaknesses in current state-based data systems and the potential that state data warehouses could be commandeered to create an unprecedented federal tracking system for maintaining private student information.
“As a starting point, the states’ lack of transparency for these databases is deeply troubling,” said Professor Reidenberg. “Our research team had significant difficulty and was unable to find publicly available information on the data collected by many states. As far as parents are concerned, this means that state governments have created secret surveillance systems for their children.
“The state data warehouses generally did not have clear legal limitations on the purpose for which data could be accessed and used,” Reidenberg continued. “The lack of purpose limitations strongly suggests that states will begin a mission creep and use children’s educational data for a multiplicity of purposes unrelated to assuring the educational performance of the state’s schools.”
“Today’s hearing identified key concerns that must be addressed to ensure existing data systems do not leave students and families vulnerable,” said Kline. “Efforts to expand data collection and standardize student tracking systems should not even be considered when weaknesses in the security of current data systems remain in question. As we work to give states and local schools the information they need to increase student academic achievement, we must ensure any information collected is narrow in scope and tightly controlled.”
Earlier this year, Rep. Kline wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with concerns regarding whether students’ private, personally identifiable information is being adequately protected amid federal efforts to significantly increase educational data collection. In his letter, Rep. Kline wrote: “As part of what you described as a ‘cradle to career agenda,’ the Department of Education is aggressively moving to expand data systems that collect information on our nation’s students. I am concerned by recent reports that indicate the Department’s hasty pursuit of this goal could compromise student privacy rights. I seek your immediate reassurance that the Department will work within the letter and spirit of federal law by making student privacy the paramount priority in any effort to expand student data collection.” The letter is available online here
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