Letter: Keep student info private

By The Daily Illini

(U-WIRE) NEW YORK – The National Center for Education Statistics’ recent proposal to compile students’ personal information in a national government database was surely conceived with the best of intentions. Such a system would allow the government to better track educational patterns and enable Congress to hold schools accountable when they receive federal funding for specific programs. But while accurate statistics are important, their compilation is not as important as students’ privacy rights that could be compromised by this database.

The center compiling this data is a part of the Department of Education, and it certifies that the database would be safeguarded against abuse. No investigative body like the FBI would have access, making the proposal hardly comparable to a program like the Student and Exchange Visitor and Information System, which tracks international students for punitive purposes.

Still, we have serious concerns about this proposal. First, the database would track students by their Social Security numbers, which are connected to financial, legal and medical documents. Privacy risks are high if the wrong hands get hold of the tracking system.

This problem could be solved relatively easily by scrambling the numbers so that students could be tracked anonymously but would prevent anyone – even government officials – from tracing data back to an individual, or vice versa.

The database could also threaten universities’ independence. Giving the federal government full, easy access to complete statistics could empower officials to easily identify and cut funding to schools or departments with unpopular policies or programs. It’s not such a stretch to imagine certain Congressmen rallying against particular educational programs for political gain.

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Finally, we need to know exactly what safeguards are in place to ensure that this database is not abused. The government needs to issue a clear explanation of which data will be used and how. NYU should not support its implementation until this system is rid of such security problems and privacy threats.

Staff Editorial

Washington Square News (New York U.)