CONGRESSMAN LIEU STATEMENT ON COURT ORDER RELEASING PRIVATE DATA ON 10 MILLION CHILDREN

March 1, 2016
In The News

February 25, 2016

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) issued the following statement regarding the court order in the case of Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education.

“The Plaintiffs’ lawsuit raises serious issues before the court regarding whether California is providing a quality education to special needs students. Without taking any sides in this case, I call on the parties and the court to find a way to assist the plaintiffs in receiving the data they need without disclosing personal information of every public school student in the state and exposing this sensitive data to potential theft or misuse.”

“As a Member of Congress, a former California state legislator and a parent of two children in public school, I share the concerns of the plaintiffs, but I am also concerned about the privacy of millions of students. The recent court order could result in the release of sensitive personal information of 10 million students to plaintiffs, including potentially social security numbers, disciplinary records and medical records. The children of plaintiffs deserve a quality education, but every child in a Californian public school also has a fundamental right to privacy guaranteed by the California Constitution.”

“In addition to privacy concerns, there are serious cybersecurity risk that occur by transferring large amounts of sensitive data and allowing people not trained in cybersecurity to have access to that data. The massive data breaches at the Federal Office of Personnel Management, Home Depot and Blue Cross show that sensitive data is under constant threat of infiltration and theft. Even with the yet to be defined security precautions set forth in the court order, privacy and security threats to this sensitive student data will multiply exponentially if transferred in an unredacted format to plaintiffs’ lawyers.”

“The court order authorizes a potential opt-out notice to give parents the opportunity to object to their children’s data being included in the discovery request. The California Department of Education has posted links to this form in English and Spanish. However, California is home to not just families that speak English and Spanish, but families that speak many other different languages. In addition, parents that don’t have broadband or internet access will be far less likely to even know they can have their children opt-out. Moreover, school districts are not required to post the court’s notice. This potentially creates a situation where income levels and ethnicity will play a role in determining who opts out of the plaintiffs’ data request.”

“I believe the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act did not envision the mass release of unredacted childrens’ data, such as social security numbers, disciplinary information and mental health records. The court, the parties and the public all have an interest in protecting the privacy of our students in this case. Whether it is using student ID numbers or other anonymizing techniques, there are other means to achieve the goals of the plaintiffs and those approaches should be thoroughly and carefully explored instead of moving forward in a way that puts sensitive student data at risk.”