Danger, danger! Privacy erosion

Knowledge is power, and the more power the government has, the less its citizens have.

A proposal to vastly expand access to university students’ records is making its way toward Congress. The proposal is supported by the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Given such support, one would think a proposal to allow the National Center for Education Statistics to gather personal student data – including transfer information, course records and other tidbits – was a good thing. Indeed, there are benefits, such as more accurate studies of higher education institutions.

But those benefits do not outweigh the dangers to privacy that the proposal would help allow. Little by little, privacy has been chipped away. “Big Brother” sirens have been accused of paranoia. But in this instance, Chicken Little is right.

Privacy is a serious issue, and our government has had a shameful history in the past with personal information. J. Edgar Hoover used information to blackmail and intimidate citizens. Former President Richard Nixon used information to make an enemies list. Already, cameras watch us from every street corner. There are arguments brewing as to whether medical information should be encoded on chips and voluntarily implanted into the body. Insurance companies are eager to look at our DNA. With the help of organizations we patronize, computer spammers have barraged us with junk mail. This erosion must stop. We are sliding down a slippery slope, and it must end now.

The abuses of this power are great. Students with undocumented immigrant parents would be deterred from going to college for fear of deportation. Certain classes could eventually trigger Department of Homeland Security investigations.

The National Center for Education Statistics has stated in bold letters that this information will only be used by the center itself. But such a roadblock could turns out to be insufficient, considering Congress could amend the law at anytime.

While the information gathered could help the government discern gaps in education and maybe help hold schools more accountable, there should be a path that is less dangerous to the privacy of students. Knowledge is power, and the more power the government has, the less its citizens have.