Don’t Give the Government Our Children’s Data

Image via udgamschool

Giving the government data regarding our children, even for educational purposes, raises some concerning questions.

How does Facebook turn a profit?  Advertisers who use the social media giant are buying the massive information collected on the individuals who use the platform.  Every user gives Facebook consent for the information collection as a requirement of free access to the website.  Consent is the key for any transaction to be ethical.  

Many Libertarians refer to consent frequently as a metric to use when judging the morality of actions conducted by government.  Americans are trained from birth to provide government with personal information.  Every U.S. citizen has been squeezed into a federal database for data collection, analysis, and use.  

State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) have exploded throughout the country over the past decade due to numerous grants being provided to almost every state to support programs designed to streamline and share education data with other state agencies.   

Based upon information provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, SLDS data grants have been provided to all states as of 2015 except Alabama.   Alabama has just received an SLDS grant from the Department of Labor in the past month.   Data sharing is one of the main features of the SLDS, and it allows agencies like the Department of Labor to determine workforce-related needs based upon education outcomes of the student population.

According the program supporters, SLDS provides government with the ability to harvest every child’s educational performance data as a means of mining the information to help improve and measure the success of various educational initiatives.  The Senate Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing on improving education on June 28th, and several witnesses provided testimony regarding SLDS and the related issues.  

Most witnesses’ laudatory testimony was focused on the benefits of big data in education.  One education professional provided testimony which asserted the SLDS allowed for early detection of students at risk of dropping out of school.  Another supporter emphasized the benefit for states to tailor workforce development programs which were tied to educational outcomes.  The consensus among supporters is that when government is allowed to collect and share information on each individual student, the government is empowered to make life better and with more perfect information the government can help solve problems.  

One supporter in the Senate Subcommittee hearing was focused on ensuring the Trump budget doesn’t cut spending to the programs which analyze student data.  

The Senate Subcommittee hearing included only one witness opposed to SLDS.  This witness also happened to be the only one not representing a government agency or program.   

Her concerns were related to the practice in many states of sharing sensitive student data with private education companies, the inability for parents to opt-out their children from data collection programs, and the security of the data once it is collected and stored.  

She pointed to numerous examples and a Department of Education Inspector General report showing that data security breaches were a much more serious problem with education entities.  The most compelling argument made by the opposition was the focus on the inability to consent to data collection.

Imagine Facebook implements compulsory use of its social media platform for all children ages five through seventeen and collects data about your children without asking your permission and then provides this information to your state’s Department of Education.  In turn, the Department of Education decides based on analyzed Facebook data that your child in ninth grade is at risk of not graduating in four years.  Then the state makes the decision to place your child on a technical education path to provide useful experiences for your dull youth in preparation of their future life in manual labor.  

This scenario is appalling to most people with an understanding of the basic concepts underlying freedom and liberty.   But when you replace the entity Facebook with the name of your child’s primary or secondary school parents become ambivalent.  Americans are conditioned to not require consent from government so the thought of an elementary school collecting data on your Kindergartener that may determine if your munchkin is a welder or a scholar is nearly absent the type of reaction it deserves.

Consent is the basis for Facebook’s ethical data collection and usage.  Consent is lacking in the SLDS program like most other compulsory governmental schemes.  Without allowing parents to opt-out of data collection the personal data being provided to education contractors or various other governmental agencies represents a theft of person’s dignity.  

What is the driving force behind the tens of millions of dollars being put into these programs?  

Many in government appear to believe that they can direct the educational outcomes of individuals with more efficiency if only provided perfect information.  This type of hubris is known as command and control or centralized government.   SLDS represents the conceited nature of government to believe that it knows better than an individual what is best.  The data collected will be used to legitimize shoe-horning individuals into a particular range of expected outcomes without consent from the moment they step into a public school.

The thought of government’s data mining the education experience of children and then tying that data to their work, health, marriage, habits, arrests, etc. throughout life until death is the epitome of cradle to grave oversight and control.  There is no reason to believe that government will be altruistic in its application of knowledge.  It is much more likely that the various departments and agencies will seek power and attempt to force some sort of political or social goal with this new found power.   Ronald Reagan knew to fear the words: “I am from the government and I am here to help”.

Anson Knowles is the host of the Alabama-based radio program The Anson Knowles Show Live, Local, Liberty Oriented Talk on 92.5FM/770AM WVNN and wvnn.com.

Anson Knowles is a radio show host and libertarian political activist from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a 2014 candidate for the Huntsville, Alabama school board and served formerly as the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Madison County, Alabama. His writing has appeared also on AL.com, and his radio program takes place each Saturday morning.

Leave a Reply