MCLU Urges School Boards to Review Social Security Number Collection Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
August 4, 2010 12:00 am

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Portland – The Maine Civil Liberties Union sent letters to Maine’s school board chairs today encouraging them to pass resolutions to promote student privacy.

A state law, which is set to go into effect later this year, allows the Department of Education to collect and store student social security numbers for tracking purposes. Already, one Maine school board, RSU #44 serving the Bethel area, has passed a resolution in favor of the law’s repeal. The Bethel resolution also instructs schools to ensure parents know the program is opt-in. The MCLU hopes that resolutions by other school boards will place mounting pressure on the legislature to repeal or revise the law, which was passed in the spring of 2009.

“We encourage school boards to educate themselves, schools and parents about the risks of social security number collection,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “The Bethel area school board recognized, as we do, that students have privacy rights too.”

In its letter, the MCLU cautioned school boards of the risks individuals face when their social security numbers are collected and stored. Social security numbers can be used by identity thieves or others to unlock the most personal details of people’s lives. In the last several years, high-profile instances of data breach at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration and the Finance Authority of Maine among other entities have exposed the vulnerability of even the most secure data, whether to unauthorized or mistaken access.

The MCLU also emphasized that participation in LD 1356’s data collection is voluntary, a fact it hopes school boards will make clear to parents who might otherwise believe that their participation in the program is obligatory. The resolution passed by RSU #44 advises parents that the program is strictly optional.

“The program is voluntary, and schools may not retaliate against parents who decline to disclose their child’s social security numbers,” writes MCLU Field Director Brianna Twofoot to school board chairs in the MCLU letter. “Without explicit explanations of the program and associated risks, parents and schools alike are in the dark.”

In 1974, Congress passed the Privacy Act, which found that the government’s use and dissemination of private data places privacy at risk. Improperly protected student data, which can include disciplinary records as well as academic transcripts, can affect one’s access to housing, employment, and credit later in life. The state law, PL Chapter 448, requires the Department of Education to explain the risks associated with the disclosure of social security numbers. It has not yet done so, however, leading to concern that parents and schools will be left in the dark when making decisions about the program.

A copy of the Bethel school board resolution is available at:

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