Monday, January 03, 2005

National student database raises privacy concerns in the US

Privacy and student activists in the United States are concerned about the implications of a proposed database that will track all post-secondary students in the United States. The Harvard Crimson has a good overview of the proposed system and the concerns being expressed.

The Harvard Crimson Online :: Feds May Launch Student Database: Records will track academics, tuition payments and financial aid benefits:

"Federal officials are considering a proposal to launch a massive database that would track college students' academic progress, tuition payments and financial aid benefits in an effort to gather improved data on higher education.

Proponents of the move say the expanded database could help officials craft more sensible public policies. Opponents fear that the plan could facilitate large-scale infringements on students' privacy.

The proposal--currently being vetted by Department of Education officials--would expand an existing database to allow researchers to track individual students who drop out of college or transfer between institutions. It would include information ranging from social security numbers to participation in varsity sports."

Before Canadian readers think "how long until this comes to Canada?", they may be surprised to learn that this is already here:

InfoSource: Statistics Canada 7 / 11:

"Postsecondary Student Database

Description: The information in this bank is obtained from the administrative files of Canadian universities and other postsecondary institutions (community colleges, CEGEPs). It includes demographic data, and information relating to the individual's activities as a student, such as qualification sought, discipline of specialization, and previous educational activity. There are no names in this data bank. Consequently, for retrieval purposes, it is necessary to use the number assigned to the individual by the institution and the year(s) the individual has studied at that institution. Class of Individuals: This bank contains annual information on full-time and part-time students in Canadian postsecondary institutions. Purpose: The purpose of this bank is to produce statistical information on student by province, institution, program and sex. Retention and Disposal Standards: The files are to be retained for 55 years. RDA Number: To be established. Related to PR#: STC ECT 170 TBS Registration: 001855 Bank Number: STC PPU 090"

One big difference is that the Canadian database is not available for routine law enforcement and national security browsing thanks to the secrecy provisions of the Statistics Act.

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