California School Records

California Set To Release Personal Records Of Over 10 Million Public School Students, Could Data Fall Into The Wrong Hands?

A recent court ruling has ordered the release of over 10 million California student records to attorneys suing the state. Parents across California are frantic that personal information of their children could end up in the wrong hands.

As Mercury News reports, concerned parents hope to file an objection in federal court in protest of the release of home addresses, social security numbers, and records on discipline, test stores, and mental health of their children.

California personal records
The standardized test scores of ten million California schoolchildren may soon be released. [Image via Shutterstock/mert can dogan]
But it is unclear what Federal Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of Sacramento would do about it.

Sources that spoke to Mercury News say that even if she did approve, the complications of sieving through the data means there are hardly any guarantees that the release of the data can be stopped in time.

So why is California being forced to release private data on schoolchildren?

Five years ago, San Francisco Attorney Rony Sagy, representing parents from Morgan Hill, contended that the state of California had failed abysmally in making certain that children with special needs were receiving quality education. The plaintiffs sued, and called for a release of information.

Judge Mueller is requiring California to release the data of all K-12 students in the state from 2008 onward.

Sherri Taylor, a worried mother of three kids in the San Jose Unified School District, is appalled that private information about her children is being released.

“I can’t believe a judge will allow this happen. My biggest concern as a parent is that I have no recourse.”

IT professionals see this move as an impending disaster, warning that the release is a valuable target for criminals because of the sheer volume of information and the obvious inability to secure the data properly.

Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum, a San Diego interest group, predicted the worst.

“Today, the sophistication of hackers is profound. There is a lot of money to be made trading student names, Social Security numbers and addresses. If this data is released, it will make its way into the wrong hands.”

The protocol explaining how the data would be handled has baffled IT professionals. Renato Mascardo, Chief Technology Officer for a San Francisco financial software company, ticked off the missing parameters, including: encrypted traffic, password length, non-preventive measures against hacking and no tests to confirm if it was actually in a secure environment.

“The protocol lists emails as a viable form of sending sensitive data and that is totally unheard of because there is no adequate security.”

Linda McNulty, speaking for the plaintiffs, insists that they are not after personal information. In 2008, Linda pressed for the state to buffer up special education oversight, and formed the Morgan Hill Concerned Parents and a sister state group, which together filed a suit that the state refused to give any attention.

State education officials denied 62 out the 63 plaintiffs’ requests for data, calling it “burdensome, overbroad, vague and not proportional to the needs.” State Department of Education spokesperson Peter Tira said the state had acted in best interests to protect student privacy.

McNulty assures that fewer than 10 people will have access to the data.

“No matter the security requirements, even with the best intentions, data breaches can still happen,” said Beth Givens of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse based in San Diego. On the other hand, Dixon said “It’s a ludicrous claim because the complexities of maintaining and analyzing data will surely require more than 10 people.”

If you are a California parent and would like to object to your child’s personal information being released, you can fill out a form here. The form must be filled and sent by April 1.

[Image via Shutterstock/Sergey Niven]