DANGER: House GOP Leaders Prepare to Ram Through Privacy-Killing Bill


Last week, I discussed the dangers of HR 4174/S 2046, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Act (FEPA). The gravest concern about FEPA is the likely development of a national database of dossiers on every American citizen. Introduced on Halloween, this horrifying bill passed the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a voice vote a mere two days later with no discussion whatsoever about the privacy and freedom concerns. Apparently, many of the normally liberty-vigilant members of the Freedom Caucus who serve on that committee have been led to believe the loss of privacy is small in comparison to the amount of government oversight data they think they will receive.

Unless the public rises up, FEPA is about to be rammed through a House floor vote with little debate and no recorded vote this Wednesday — all orchestrated by Speaker Paul Ryan, the primary author of the House bill. Ryan’s maneuver is similar to his tactics with the 1,000-plus page conference report of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was released to members only two days before the final vote.

Here are some of the main reasons why this bill is a terrible idea from a one-page summary targeted to members of Congress:

  • The Director of the Office of Management and Budget must … develop “a unified evidence-building plan” for the entire federal government. Although the public must be “consulted,” and lip service is paid to issues of privacy and confidentiality of data, these are only items to be considered. There are no actual prohibitions or even limitations on proceeding with data collection, regardless of the sensitivity of the data.
  • The federal government is demonstrably incompetent at data security; moreover, the government routinely ignores the overwhelming data it already has that shows the ineffectiveness of many (most) federal programs. There is no reason to believe an even more enormous trove of data can be secured, or that it will actually change government behavior in any meaningful way.
  • Most importantly, collecting and holding massive amounts of data about an individual has an intimidating effect on the individual—even if the data is never used. This fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and government. Citizen direction of government cannot happen when government sits in a position of intimidation of the individual.

This fast-tracking of FEPA is very alarming, because it is happening in the context of the hard sell by education technology corporations of personalized learning and social emotional learning (SEL) data-gathering software for enormous profits. Ed-tech company, Panorama Education, recently announced that they just raised $16 million to “increase the reach of social emotional learning” by “help[ing] schools better understand their students’ growth mindset, social awareness, self-management, and other social-emotional learning domains through research-backed surveys.” Investors include Facebook data mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan through their foundation.

These are the same surveys that even “grit guru” Dr. Angela Duckworth (video at 35:45) as well as many other SEL research experts (p. 157) have panned as “fakeable,” subjective and ineffective.

I would add the descriptor of “invasive” to that list. Here is one example of a set of questions from their surveys:

The thought of this type of subjective, invasive drivel going into a lifelong database that has the potential to be shared across every federal agency and then to corporations and researchers without consent should have parents and grandparents grabbing their pitchforks and manning the ramparts.

However, it appears that perhaps the data grabbers are realizing that, despite spending millions of dollars on commissions, white papers, lobbying, and marketing, there is trouble in their putative ed-tech paradise. When Education Week, partially funded by the Gates Foundation and generally not a conservative or pro-parent publication, does an in-depth article on the “Case(s) Against Personalized Learning,” there are likely to be major problems. The three points that reporter Benjamin Herold made in his well-balanced and comprehensive article were:

  1. “The Hype Outweighs the Research,” quoting John F. Pane, senior scientist at the Rand Corporation, who said, “The evidence base is very weak at this point.”
  2. “Personalized Learning is Bad for Teachers and Students” quoting progressive education author Alfie Kohn who said of personalized learning, “It’s behaviorism on a screen.”
  3. “Big Tech + Big Data = Big Problems,” quoting Audrey Waters who said, “When Facebook promises personalization, it’s really about massive data collection.”

Herold also interviewed me for that article and quoted me on the data mining aspects of personalized learning, which is very relevant to FEPA:

“We’re sacrificing our children’s privacy, and we’re allowing corporations to make potentially life-changing decisions about our kids, all for technology that doesn’t actually help them,” said Effrem, the president of Education Liberty Watch, an advocacy organization that supports parents’ right to control their children’s education.

In addition to FEPA, we have been warning about two other very concerning federal data bills: the College Transparency Act (CTA – HR 2434) and the Student Privacy Protection Act (SPPA – HR 3157). CTA, summarized here, directly lifts the prohibition on the student unit record system, allowing lifelong tracking of students in college and through the workforce without their consent or knowledge. SPPA, summarized here, does not protect privacy, but in its attempt to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), it actually codifies many of the egregious aspects of the Obama administration’s 2012 regulatory gutting of the law’s privacy protections that allow much student data to be used without parental consent.

There is much to do to protect our own and our children’s privacy and to “drain the swamp” instead of allowing the creeping Administrative State to expand. The first task is to immediately let your House members know that you stand firmly against FEPA. A national database on American citizens has no place in our constitutional republic.

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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