Friday, September 01, 2006

Today's Educational Scandal; Private Student Loan Data And the FBI

Yawn! Should I waste breath mentioning that this is yet another Bush-era (will it ever end!) low-point. Why bother. We're so far away from textbook America these days that we may as well believe we'll all win big lotteries this week.

The number of outrages in this latest scandal are many. Let's start at the top (all quotes from: Education Dept. Shared Student Data With F.B.I. by JONATHAN D. GLATER, New York Times).

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.

Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.
Oh. I'm not Columbo so I'm guessing, like me, you're all wondering why. I mean, what's more important - that there's a terrorist on campus somewhere or that the terrorists are abusing their loan money?

The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.

In a statement, Mary Mitchelson, counsel to the inspector general of the Education Department, said, “Using names provided by the bureau, we examined the Department of Education’s student financial aid databases to determine if the individuals received or applied for federal student financial assistance.”

Information collected on federal financial aid applications includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, incomes and, for some students, information on parents’ incomes and educational backgrounds.

Generally, only United States citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for federal student financial aid.

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.
See what I mean? This seems antithetical to American justice.

If the list of 100s were terrorists then the Student Loan data is co-incidental - they should be arrested and tried, no? But the explanation implies that the Department of Education had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy of granting student loans and financial aid to -cough- students who aren't citizens, whose parents don't pay taxes, and who might be getting a freer ride in school than your kid or mine! Much of the other eclectic assertions made by the authorities don't justify this warrantless invasion of privacy this action exercises.

How many terrorists exploited student visas? I haven't heard of any. Student loan frauds? Why fish for these? Were these hundreds of students Americans or not? And if the terrorists were stealing identities then wouldn't the entire fourteen million applications be suspect?

Could this witch-hunt get any more dubious? OH, YEAH! We are, after all, talking about the Deapartment of Education.

A spokeswoman for the bureau, Cathy Milhoan, said the Education Department had provided financial aid information on fewer than 1,000 names in connection with terrorism investigations.

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.”
I could swear that they said it was hundreds of student records. We're half-way through the article and we're already up to nearly one thousand!

But what's this about the Department of Education holding colleges accountable for students' success? Is the Department of Education now ensuring the success of loan and grant recipients? This so much sounds like social engineering and a grade fixing scheme.

As usual the Main Stream Media likes to wrap these civil liberties stories with a smiley face ending:
Ms. Mitchelson of the Education Department said a review of the files of the people named by the F.B.I. had not led to any cases that charged student loan fraud.

Ms. Mitchelson said the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity.”

She said the department had spent fewer than 600 hours on the program, including 50 hours over the last four years.

Ms. McGann, the journalism student who reported on the program, said she saw data sharing mentioned, but not described, in a report by the Government Accountability Office that she reviewed in the spring as part of a research project after a seminar on investigative reporting.

“I thought that was pretty unexpected for the Department of Education,” said Ms. McGann, 24, who graduated this year from Medill. “So I decided I would try to look into that a little more.”

She said she found another mention of the program in a report from the inspector general’s office in the department.

In June, Ms. McGann went directly to the Education Department.

“Eventually, I did an on-camera interview with a deputy inspector general there who did comment on the program,” she said.

She said his name was Michael Deshields.

“After that,’’ Ms. McGann added, “I decided I should file a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Last month, she received documents in response to her request that were heavily redacted, she said. Among them were Education Department memorandums describing F.B.I. requests for information on specific people whose names were blocked out and an internal memorandum dated June 16, 10 days after her interview, stating that the data sharing program had terminated. The name of the author of that memorandum was also redacted, she added.

I'm confused. If the agencies are using "the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity”" then how can they claim that the "that the data sharing program had terminated?" Somebody's missing the point, as Dick Cheney would say, "BIG TIME!" Somebody needs to identify this magic law and demand that a subpoena be required to make such transfers of data. Secondly, margaret Spellings' alterior motives for collecting data on students and parents needs to seriously questioned.

The Bush administration has made a mockery of justice in this country and using private, often tax dependent, data collected indirectly by government agencies against the neediest of Americans is just another low blow to the American psyche. Our private income tax data must be protected from exposure except to the intended audiences.

Personally, I cannot believe Republicans think these policies are in any way acceptable. Pull the plug on funding this rabid presidency, Congress, and House. They cannot be voted out of office soon enough.


Anastacia said...

I find this to be interesting, but of no surprise. There's always some type of corruption going on and some hidden scandal that was "brushed under a rug." It's unbelievable how the American government is degrading and taking away necessary funding from its own people. The American people are expected to be patriotic and put its trust in the government, but in the meantime, it seems the government isn't doing much to help its people, so where in that lies trust? Basically, the main people getting "screwed over" are the lower class citizens because they are the main ones that apply for loans and grants, those in the upper class can afford it. So, here's another contribution to keeping the rich, richer and the poor, poorer. They are adding to America's poverty. Also, this calls into question the No Child Left Behind Act. This is America after all, the land of opportunity, so every American citizen should have the opportunity to attend college, whether they have the expenses or not, and not have to worry about their personal information being shared, misused, or abused.

Frank Krasicki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank Krasicki said...

The surprise is subtle. What becomes obvious from these government exploits is that the traditional labels and roles of Government Departments have been gutted of their original purpose and now serve in lock step with this administration in punishing anyone who stands in the way of a contiguous, unquestioning Bush oligarchy.

The resources that were once directed toward education now act as a shell government department that collects student information not for education but for wider government manipulation. It is a shell game that indirectly and subversively exposes otherwise legally unobtainable data from you and I.

Something that occurred to me after a conversation earlier today was that the Department of Education may be sharing this data to target and maybe even set up poor young people to enlist in the military.

Geez, the algorithm is simple. Data mine the personal data of parents in financial need ("Hello, Margaret, send us your data!"), identify the kid and make sure he doesn't qualify for assistance, and then have military recruiters aggressively offer instant financial relief.

Ethically, it's equivalent to entrapping the poor to sell babies. The third-world marketing is identical.

IMO, this program is predatory on US citizens who are wholly unaware of being manipulated.

The Congress's negligence in oversight and outrage is criminal.