“If you attend a college or university, please immediately send your race or ethnicity, financial aid info rmation, the number of classes you are taking, whether or not you are living on campus or with your family, and any varsity sports you play. When you are done doing that, please also send all of the information listed here on page 74 ( http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005160.pdf
- see note below about PDF files) if you ever want to enroll in college.”
Under a new federal proposal being championed by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), any college or university you ever attend in the U.S. would be required to submit this personal information about you to the federal government. The data is slated to be stored indefinitely.
Why does the government want to collect and store all this information about you? To ensure students privacy and evaluate the performance of colleges and universities, the Department of Education currently collects aggregate statistics from schools. The Department of Education claims that collecting information on a student-by-student basis, rather than aggregate numbers, would help evaluate the performances of these institutions of higher education. Switching to a student unit record system, however, raises significant student privacy concerns:
* The potential exists for misuse of personal student information by government agencies. For example, the National Directory of New Hires, designed as a registry of workers who re-enter the workforce, has been accessed and misused by other government agencies to track parents who fail to pay child support or who owe non-tax debt, despite privacy assurances.
* The system is vulnerable to identity theft, arising from a concentrated storage of the very information necessary for such illegal activity.
* Who will be responsible for collecting student unit records from colleges and universities around the country? Will the government subcontract private companies, some of which have recently experienced security breaches, to collect personal student information?
* NCES database records will be stored indefinitely, creating the potential of a lifetime federal profile of individuals not involved with, or suspected of, any crime.
Congress has previously prohibited creating a national database to track students. When it created the No Child Left Behind Act (PL 107-110), Congress specifically refused to create such a database for K-12 students, according to The Campus Privacy Letter from the Council on Law in Higher Education ( http://www.clhe.org/campusprivacy/cplv1n1.pdf
- see note below about PDFs). Why would it therefore be acceptable for Congress to create a federal database on college and university students?
Furthermore, despite the Department of Education's claim that “information about individuals may never leave NCES,” this assertion is wrong. Section 508 of the USA PATRIOT Act permits the Attorney General to apply for a special court order to obtain any “reports, records, and information (including individually identifiable information) in the possession” of NCES that are relevant to a terrorism investigation or prosecution. A final report of the student tracking proposal feasibility study was sent to Congress on March 21, 2005. NCES officials have indicated that they will not implement the proposal without congressional approval, which would require weakening privacy laws and appropriating funds. Amending the Higher Education Act reauthorization bill would be the most likely method for Congress to enact the student tracking proposal. FCNL and other privacy advocacy groups have grave concerns about this proposal because of the many unanswered privacy concerns that it raises.
You can keep your info rmation private by stopping this proposal from being enacted in several ways!
1) If your representative is on the House Education and the Workforce Committee ( http://edworkforce.house.gov/members/109th/mem-fc.htm
) or your senator is on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ( http://help.senate.gov/committee_members.html
), contact him or her and say that you don't want your privacy invaded by the Department of Education's new student tracking proposal. If you don't know who your representative and/or senators are, click ( http://capwiz.com/fconl/dbq/officials/
). Your members of Congress want to hear from you about this controversial proposal!
2) Write a letter to the editor of your school newspaper or your hometown newspaper exposing the privacy concerns raised by the Department of Education's tracking proposal.
3) Contact Chairwoman of the Department of Education, Margaret Spellings (by clicking on http://www.ed.gov/about/contacts/gen/index.html?src=gu
and then clicking on the web form in the middle of the page or by calling 202-401-3000), and Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, Grover Whitehurst ( firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-502-7442), and tell them that you don't want the government indefinitely collecting and storing your private info rmation from college.
4) Forward this email to your friends so they can do something to protect their privacy rights!
Please visit the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities website ( http://www.naicu.edu/HEA/UnitRecord.shtml
) for a comprehensive list of student newspapers and other periodicals that have decried the Department of Education's student tracking proposal.
Contact Jeanne Herrick-Stare at email@example.com if you have any questions about this proposal.
* To access PDF files you will need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer. If you do not have this free program you can download it from Adobe's web site: http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html
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