When I worked in the U. S. Department of Education in the early 1990s, my agency would occasionally get letters demanding to know whether the federal government was keeping a file on the letter writer’s child. Some parents said they knew this was happening when students took the NAEP tests, which asks for background information about the family. They named a government warehouse in Maryland where these records were presumably kept. The letters were routed to me because the NAEP program was part of the agency I headed, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

 

I responded politely to every such letter that no personally identifiable information was retained. I didn’t take their fears seriously because they weren’t true.

 

That was then. This is now. All their worst fears have come true, and then some.

 

Leonie Haimson and Cheryl Kirsecker, advocates for student privacy, describe the Brave New World of government surveillance of millions of children and youth, carried out without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

 

The government is collecting copious amounts of data about every child. In the past, this data collection would have been illegal, but the Department of Education weakened the federal privacy law in 2012 to allow the collection of personally identifiable data. Every state has received funding for a longitudinal data base. The Gates Foundation has given out millions to encourage data collection.

 

Big Data is here. The question is why. For what purposes? Shouldn’t parents be asked for their approval? How could this happen without Congressional hearings and oversight?

 

It it is not too late. Congress should call hearings to inquire about systematic invasions of privacy, about covert loosening of FERPA regulations, and to find out why the law was weakened without seeking Congressional approval.