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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

The right to anonymity

 
 

The U.S. Department of Education may soon ask to create a national database for student information, raising questions of privacy rights for American college students. The proposed system would be the product of a feasibility study suggested by Congress. Its purpose would be monitoring the status of the American higher education system, according to the Department of Education. The announcement has already spurred a flurry of activity among privacy rights groups.
Students should ask why the federal government needs such specific data rather than just old-fashioned statistics. Katherine Haley Will, president of Gettysburg College, told Fox News that the information the government is seeking isn’t nebulous statistics this time around, but instead it will link students to their “social security numbers, their race, their gender, every class they’ve ever taken in their lives, whether they keep it or drop it, their student loans – everything.”
What possible motivations could the Department of Education have for needing specific data that is relatable to individual students? Furthermore, how does the department plan to keep this data to itself? It isn’t exactly a stretch to believe that once the department has access to this information, the entire federal government will as well.
Although the U.S. Code protects the confidentiality of such information in many cases, there is one glaring inconsistency: terrorism. If an individual is being investigated for alleged terrorist activities, whether domestic or international, that protection goes right out the window. Once again it is possible that the government might, “in the interests of the general welfare,” expand that little loophole to include lesser crimes. After all, once you begin chipping away at a right, it becomes a lot easier to destroy.
So why does the federal government need this information? Well, no one at the Department of Education will give the press a straight answer. Instead, they use a wonderfully nebulous phrase: “to improve the higher education.” Do they honestly expect Americans to buy that? If that is the case, why do they want names and social security numbers attached to the educational data? Does one’s name now suddenly affect how well he or she does in school, or the order of the digits in our social security number, which opens the door to a retirement we’ll never see, affect whether or not students ace a test?
Education officials have spoken out in favor of the proposal. Grover Whitehurst of the National Center for Educational Statistics, which is part of the Department of Education, wrote “our existing data …relies on snapshots of student characteristics at a certain time.” Paul Lingenfelter, executive director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, which represents policy officials across the country, told Fox News, “I think the logic is straightforward and compelling” in favor of the project. These officials seem to be willing to trade a valuable right many Americans hold dear, their privacy for a system that is, at the very least, flawed.
Education Department officials should consider checking case law before they pursue a national student data system. In Griswold v Connecticut, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment includes an implied right of privacy, and that government acts constitutionally subject to state regulation, such as higher education, may not be achieved by means that use unnecessarily broad powers and consequently invade privacy. Therefore, any government act such as the proposed system that inherently obtains unnecessary information constitutes an invasion of privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.
The government’s position that more information is needed to enhance educational quality in this country is entirely understandable, if not correct. Parental involvement, rather than governmental monitoring of the system, is what is going to ultimately improve it. As long as parents don’t care what their children do at school, neither will the children. Until parents get more active in their children’s primary and secondary education, colleges will still have to deal with poor students. There is absolutely no justifiable reason to collect this kind of information and make it traceable to individual students. Such an oversight will invariably lead to a violation of privacy, and the last time I checked, students were guaranteed the same rights as everyone else.

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