Saturday, April 21, 2012

The EPIC battle to protect children's privacy

The sub-title of an article in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, The Data-Driven Parent, asks, “Will statistical analytics make for healthier, happier babies—or more anxious adults?” 

It’s only a matter of time before the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the bible for psychiatrists, includes data-driven madness. But before that, the purveyors of the knowledge economy will make a whole lot of money with cookies and apps data-mining and warehousing us toward compulsive consumption.

Conspicuous? Hardly! That’s the secret of those who hold the keys to the knowledge economy. And that’s why I heartily endorse a recent Oregonian editorial advocating for a privacy bill of rights!

Is education a commodity no different than the diapers and car seats we buy? Or would parents consider their kids’ education records sacrosanct? An EPIC question!

On February 29th, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to block changes to education privacy rules. They believe the USDOE overstepped its legal bounds in allowing non-governmental access to students’ records without parents’ written consent. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, (a law passed by Congress) is at stake.

Senator Wyden’s “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” relies on weakened privacy rules. This bill, Senator Wyden assures us, could generate ‘Carfax-style’ reports to help parents and students comparison shop for college. 

After all, college debts are consuming our kids’ futures to the tune of $1 trillion. $1,000,000,000,000. 1 x 1012 for math geeks. Can’t wrap your head around that one? Rest assured, bubble economies don’t grow out of thin air.

The “job creators” handsomely rewarded financial engineers and bankers with their MIT and Harvard degrees for turning our economy upside down. Indeed, the “job creators” don’t care about your spiraling college debts or whether that noose around your neck comes from the U. of O. or University of Phoenix!

These same “job creators” also reward politicians who write laws for the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is the golden goose for corporate executives who meet with state legislators to write “model legislation”.

With negative press growing, corporations are bailing out of ALEC. Recently, the Gates Foundation pulled out. Rest assured, Gates’ work is already done since ALEC has already given birth to laws and rule changes that resemble the “Longitudinal Student Growth Act,” the “Breach of Personal Information Notification Act,” and the “Resolution Calling for Greater Productivity in American Higher Education.”

Four years ago, Gates convened 14 Western States (including Oregon) to discuss linking data. A central topic of conversation was how to address the challenges to data sharing presented by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  Following that, Oregon was one of four states that participated in a Gates-funded pilot project to create a Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange. This would “enable a more comprehensive regional view of the creation of human capital and its flow among multiple states… across K-12 education, postsecondary education and the workforce.”

Most Oregon legislators don’t know that Oregon already has a cradle-though-career database that will be up and running by June 30, 2012. Project ALDER (Advancing Longitudinal Data for Education Reform) is a “key deliverable” for the Oregon Education Investment Board to calculate a return on education investment.

Project ALDER is compliments of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who was given broad discretion to distribute $5.5 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. EcoNorthwest and the Chalkboard Project gushed about the opportunity to use stimulus to drive change and accelerate education reforms.

Project ALDER includes five participating agencies: Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, Oregon University Systems, Oregon Teachers Standards and Practices Commission and Oregon Employment Department. Data elements to be mined “possibly include, but are not limited to: First Name, Last Name, Middle Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Schools Attended, Address, City, State, and Phone Number.”

In a recent press release, the Gates Foundation boasted their partnership with Pearson Foundation. They are creating “a full series of digital instruction resources.”  

Michael Winrip of the New York Times writes, “Experts in tax law say that Pearson appears to be using its foundation to push its business interests, which would be a violation of the federal tax code.” It’s hardly reassuring that Susan Castillo, Superintendent of the Oregon Department of Education, took a Pearson Foundation-sponsored trip to Brazil last September. This junket came as her influence wanes and Governor Kitzhaber wields temporary control over the appointed Oregon Education Investment Board.
Then again, corporate sponsors of the Council of Chief State School Officers is a who's who list of knowledge and data brokers. Wireless Generation deserves special notice. Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corps, it's run by the former Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, Joel Klein. He's finagled a nearly $10 million no-bid contract, despite Murdoch's on-going phone hacking scandals and the consternation of New York City education activists. Wireless Generation has teamed up with the Shared Learning Collaborative, piloted in nine states, with $76,500,000 coming from the Gates Foundation to create an enormous money-making scheme. A shared learning infrastructure...
"When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching," said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch
When a Project ALDER Data Center Move White Paper (pp. 78, 79) praises the successful centralization of data at the Oregon State University Open Source Lab,we can make inferences from these assertions: 
  • "The leaders in this project were more than just leaders; they were truly ‘enablers.’" 
  • "Turn your vendors into partners. Give them buy-in to the project and make sure that they know you value their opinion."
  • "Buy the best product(s) you can afford for your project and plan for future expansions."
The Project ALDER Data Collection Committee lists Pearson as an “agency” and Pearson employee, Rose Craighead, as State Reporting Business Analyst. Key recommendations for the ALDER’s Data Warehouse include Microsoft Windows as the operating system platform and Microsoft SQL Server as the database platform for the data warehouse.
Since the Oregon Department of Education’s records retention schedule expires May 2012, it’s hard to know how long Microsoft, Pearson, other vendors and authorized representatives can expand their digital footprints on our kids’ education and wage records. Perhaps life-long learning will come with an unjustifiable sentence: indefinite warehousing of students as “human capital” data points.
The knowledge economy beckons digital miners in a modern-day gold rush. Education data breaches keep cyber security and identity theft companies busy—and at great cost. Yet Congress keeps its hands off Internet governance—even when it involves student privacy rights. When the Oregon Education Investment Board calculates a return on investment, Oregonians should ask, “For whom?”


To open the Gates of knowledge, we need to connect the dots. Unfortunately, crony capitalism is a tough lesson to learn and even harder to correct.

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