by Karen R. Effrem, MD
Yesterday, the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing titled, “Protecting Privacy, Promoting Data Security: Exploring How Schools and States Keep Data Safe.” Here are some key takeaways:
By far, the best witness from a parental rights and pro-privacy perspective was David Couch, Chief Information Officer for the Kentucky Department of Education. A former military cyber security expert, his most cogent remarks had to do with decreasing the amount of data collected:
We have put KDE on a “healthy data diet” so that we collect only the data that we know is necessary, which has the side effect of improving data quality, which researchers love, and minimizing our attack surface. We regularly encourage our districts to do the same.
These remarks were nearly identical to one of the key statements from the testimony of APP’s Jane Robbins during the January hearing on data privacy, who said, “The government should hold as little data as possible, not as much. You can’t hack what isn’t there.”
Dr. Gary Lilly of the Bristol, Tenn., school district highlighted various efforts to protect student data. These include background checks on employees and limiting access to data depending on employee role. Both Lilly and Couch discussed the need for more training for teachers and administrative personnel to avoid inadvertently releasing personally identifiable information via spreadsheets or phishing attacks.
The extreme challenge of their efforts was made clear, however, when Couch admitted that there were nearly four billion attacks on the Kentucky DOE data system in one year.
Amelia Vance, director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) was one of the witnesses. FPF is a creation of many of the biggest, worst actors on the privacy front, including the Gates Foundation, Google, and Facebook. She spoke about how necessary it is for taxpayers to spend more money training school districts and corporations to properly protect privacy.
Vance’s testimony was also problematic, given that, in addition to the many privacy concerns, ed tech applications have a very poor record of actually improving academic achievement.
Given the enormous implications of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal for student data privacy; the efforts of OECD to develop a Facebook-style international personality profile test analogous to its PISA test for reading; the non-consensual psychological experimentation on students via software; and the disturbing lack of data security at the U.S. Department of Education (USED), one would think that some of these critical issues would be discussed at a hearing on data security. Sadly, they were not. This seems emblematic of the many competing interests within and between political parties and the enormous financial clout of Big Data.
Three of the four witnesses were present to discuss student data security, while one was brought in by the Democratic caucus to discuss civil rights issues on the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The entire and admitted focus of the testimony of Catherine Lhamon, former Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights during the Obama administration, was to attack the Trump administration efforts to undo the damaging school safety and transgender bathroom policies.
As discussed, the school safety guidance signed by Lhamon during her time at USED has seriously undermined the safety of students and school staff across the nation. This is especially true in Parkland, Fla., where the district superintendent misled the public and officials about the shooter’s involvement in a federal grant program to decrease on-campus arrests of minority and disabled students. Of course, the difference in arrests and suspensions is blamed on racism instead of the sad but strong propensity of students growing up in fatherless households to have emotional difficulties and act out.
The three witnesses that discussed data were uniform in their recommendation to revamp FERPA. As discussed in the most recent national coalition letter to Congress, this is an important thing to do, but it needs to be done carefully by:
Photo credit: Lucelia Ribeiro via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0