The Mutability of Data Use

Once it’s collected, there’s no telling who might be using it, and for what: Education Dept. Shared Student Data With F.B.I.

The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.

[…] An assistant director of the F.B.I., John Miller, said in a statement: “During the 9/11 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor.’’

Mr. Miller said the Education Department was asked to “run names of subjects already material to counterterrorism investigations” to look for evidence of student loan fraud or identity theft.

“No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for,” he said. “This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names. This is part of our mission, which is to take the leads we have and investigate them.”

[…] The information sharing was disclosed as the Education Department examines a proposal by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, established last year by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, to create a national student database that would follow individual students’ progress as a way of holding colleges accountable for students’ success.

“This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.”