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Moms For Privacy & Rights Fight On

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Deborah Abramson Brooks (l.) and Allison White with their petition to stop inBloom. With all of the signatures and comments, the document runs nearly 500 pages.

In early January, I wrote about Deborah Abramson Brooks and Allison White, two Port Washington moms who had looked into the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) plans to turn over the names and records of more than two million public school students to an outfit called inBloom. This Atlanta-based company, underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working with state governments to get data on every American student to store, crunch, and potentially share with all sorts of other companies. As I said when I introduced Deborah and Allison, inBloom wants to make our kids’ educational careers — and basically their lives — so much spreadsheet fodder.

Of all the states, New York has been the most enthusiastic about inBloom. Despite last week’s recommendation by a governor-appointed panel that we pull out of the program, it’s definitely not over. A recommendation is just that.

This is a complicated issue that’s not easily explained in sound bites. Which is precisely why inBloom has been able to get this far. But Deborah and Allison believe that privacy and parental consent are too important to be compromised. So they wrote a petition that they posted on line and have continued to fight the Good Fight.

Here’s an update from them on what’s been happening since January:

The NYSED’s preoccupation with statewide data collection and data-mining remains alive and well. To the dismay of many citizens, NYSED is proceeding full-steam ahead with the uploading, into the cloud, of 400 data points — including otherwise-confidential health records, discipline records, special-needs records, family socio-economic information and other sensitive information — on every public school child in New York State, and all without informed parental consent. As we all have seen, privacy concerns aside, there is no guarantee this data can be protected from hackers.

It’s those concerns that led us to author the Children’s Data Protection and Privacy petition. It’s clear we’re not alone in our concerns, as the issue gains attention and traction here in New York, and throughout the country.

So far, the petition has garnered close to 5,400 signatures, and our work has gone viral, featured on blogs of education leaders such as Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson. Our messge has reached tens of thousands of parents and taxpayers around the country.

We’re gratified to see many more parents question the need for their children’s (and their own) confidential and sensitive information to be collected and stored beyond the school district level, and certainly not without informed partental consent.

Nevertheless, according to recent testimony by Ken Wagner, NYSED’s Deputy Commissioner for Curriculum, Assessment and Educational Technology, at a hearing before the State Assembly’s Education Committee, all data to which NYSED currently has access has already been uploaded to inBloom — without informed parental consent — for development and test purposes. And, there is no plan to stop.

This is an outrage.

We attended that hearing in Manhattan, and as we sat there, we felt we were bearing witness for other parents who could not be there, and that it was important for the Assembly members to see our faces and be reminded that these “data points” are real children with real parents. With all the political jockeying between the Governor, Assembly, Senate, NYSED and Regents, along with the partisan politics, it is the children who are forgotten.

Allison also submitted written testimony that will become part of the public record from the hearing.

Fortunately, states throughout the country are working to enact strict privacy laws to protect our children’s data and school records. We (and many others) are doing our best to convince our legislators here in New York to do the same. Last week, Allison went to Albany, petition in hand, to speak to legislators to make sure they knew that thousands of New Yorkers share our concerns about inBloom and other third-party vendors. Allison presented the petition to the Governor’s office, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator John Flanagan, chair of the Senate’s Education Committee, got it, too. Many others in our state legislature know about the petition and are following it. Clearly, all of our government officials in Albany are now aware of the issue.

While we continue our fight on the state level, we also are in contact with federal legislators regarding strengthening federal privacy laws vis-a-vis privacy rights for children.

The link to our petition is http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/protect-new-york-state.

Signing it is one way that every parent, grandparent, neighbor, student and taxpayer in New York and beyond can help protect our children from the NYSED’s wild data-collection and data-mining scheme.

Deborah and Allison are absolutely right. The lesson? Pity the fools who mess with our kids.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers. Email: jowens@antonnews.com

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