In light of the court ordered data release of Ohio public school student’s private educational information, it is important for parents to understand that leaving off student name, address, and social security number from a datafile does not mean that your child’s identity will remain

Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute discusses this issue with Richard Innis, educational analyst with the Bluegrass Institute, as they explore data privacy concerns with the extensive student data-tracking efforts currently underway at the local, state, and national level.

The privacy discussion covers the first 11 minutes of  the podcast.  At the 2:59 mark, Mr. Innis gives a real life example of a case where student names were re-attached to a de-identified data file by comparing the file to another database.

Pullman delves further into this issue at the 6:52 mark and asks the question,

“So when state education leaders…say, ‘Well we don’t collect personally identifiable student information. We use random, you know, student identification numbers.  There are no student names attached to this so, you know, we can’t identify the kids.  It’s just a big pile of anonymous data,’ What you’re saying is that with relative ease someone can take this pile of anonymous data and, because there’s so much information about each individual child in it, basically say from the anonymous file who each child is by comparing databases?”

Innis responds,

“That’s right. Generally, in these de-identified databases to facilitate research, there’s still a lot of data collected…After awhile you get a lot of that data and it starts to become unique.  The probability that two students will share exactly the same set of data as you collect more data pieces gets smaller and smaller and smaller until you can re-identify data with a pretty high degree of accuracy if you have another extensive database to compare it to.”

“And with the national education data model that is being proposed with over 400 general entry items, but with a lot of sub information collected in a lot of those items, it’s going to be an absolutely open door to re-attach full identifying data including name, address, social security number, which all will be in this federal database.  All that can be re-attached to supposedly de-identified data.  And that’s the unintended consequence and the danger that I don’t think a lot of people that are pushing these expanded transfers of databases really understand.”

Innis concludes the discussion by talking about the very sensitive nature of the data being collected on students; it includes information on behavioral problems, disabilities, and problems students may have had with law enforcement, to name just a few examples, that could be very damaging later in life if it gets into the wrong hands.  (See 9:10 mark.)

School officials have begun collecting this data on our children without their knowledge and have already begun transferring it to third parties. The potential for damage to individuals that could affect their opportunities later in life is very real.

We as the stewards of our children’s futures need to manage these risks and take them very seriously.

Please read the notice to parents from the U.S. District Court concerning the educational data release affecting all Ohio public school students registered for the 2013/14 school year.  It can be found HERE.

Parents and students age 18 and over may object to the data release by following the judge’s orders on the court notice.  The court must receive objections no later than September 12, 2014.

From the court notice:


If you do not object to the disclosure of information described above, you do not have to do anything.

If you object to the disclosure of information described above and you want to inform the Judge of your objection, you must do all of the following:

  1. Write a letter to the Judge telling him what you object to;
  2. On the first page of your letter, write in large or underlined letter: “OBJECTIONS TO DISCLOSURE OF FERPA INFORMATION IN DOE V. STATE, Case No. 91-464.”
  3. Mail your letter to:

Clerk’s Office: Judge Watson’s Docket
U.S. Courthouse
85 Marconi Boulevard
Columbus, Ohio 43215

A parent or guardian may object on behalf of a minor student, but must state in the objection the relationship that he or she has with the affected minor student.


The podcast of the interview with Richard Innes can be found HERE.