The country is having an important debate about how much of our personal information the government should collect. The privacy issue is making for strange political bedfellows, with people on the left and right staking out a wide range of positions. But regardless of political stripe, we all should be able to agree that no one should be gathering private and personal information about our children to put onto one gigantic national database, right?

The problem is, $100 million is being spent to do exactly that.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a nonprofit named inBloom to scoop up school records by the digital truckload and store them on Amazon’s servers. InBloom assures us it will put in all the necessary safeguards so only authorized users will be able to tap into the data, but it can’t guarantee the information will be secure from determined hackers who want to use it for their own purposes, and the company says it’s not liable if someone succeeds in breaking in.

InBloom plans to make the information available to private education companies, but parents who consider this an invasion of their children’s privacy have no say in the matter. Parental consent isn’t part of the plan.

As a retired teacher, I know how personal and revealing school records can be. They’re not just a stack of manila folders filled with old report cards and standardized tests. Student records contain information about medical conditions, psychological problems and learning disabilities. If a child gets into trouble and disciplinary action is taken, that’s in the records too. Information like this can be valuable to teachers and other staff members to help students grow academically and personally, but that’s where access to the data should end. Yet inBloom plans to gather all of this sensitive information right alongside each student’s name, address and Social Security number for easy identification.

InBloom may be a nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a profit to be made. An education company owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has been paid tens of millions of dollars to create the infrastructure for the database. Even if I’m willing to overlook the ultraconservative politics of Murdoch’s vast, worldwide media empire, I can’t overlook the blatantly illegal hacking Murdoch’s newspapers in England were guilty of recently. Reporters admitted they hacked into the voicemails of members of the royal family and A-list celebrities. Most chillingly, one Murdoch newspaper interfered with an investigation of a missing 13-year-old girl - who, it turned out, was murdered -- deleting messages from her phone’s voicemail and tapping into her mother and father’s phones. A journalist involved in the illegal hacking said he did it because of the “relentless pressure” to get a scoop that would increase sales.

The thought of trusting sensitive information about our children to a corporation that puts “relentless pressure” on its employees to generate profits by tapping into people’s private information is frightening.

The good news is, resistance to inBloom’s $100 million database has grown as information about the plan has spread. Originally, nine states were planning to participate (Arizona, by the way, was not one of them). Because of vocal objections from parents and educators, only three states - New York, Illinois and Colorado - are still active participants, and people in those states are demanding they pull out as well.

I’d like to think the inBloom plan will wither and die, but Bill Gates is a persistent guy who loves data, and for him, writing a $100 million check is like you and me giving $10 to a favorite charity. InBloom has already begun the rebranding process and hopes to sell itself with a new PR campaign. It’s up to parents, educators and other concerned citizens to make sure this invasion of our children’s privacy doesn’t happen.

(Editor’s note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.)

(3) comments

John Flanagan

Privacy is gone. Forget about it! Frye's in this town knows all about my Sarah Lee bakery purchases and they could accurately report the last time I bought a half pound of liverwurst from the deli dept. Ace Hardware knows how many times a year I treated my fountain for algae. It is all entered into the register when they scan my store card for a discounted price. All my phone calls are monitored by the Cable company, the NSA, and Chinese hackers.
The TV shows I watch are documented somewhere in NY and Washington, and should the government ever round up FOX News viewers for subversive activities....well, I am sunk. I check out one lousy site on the Internet, and the next day I have 60 spam emails to DBR ( Delete Before Reading). Somehow there is a repository where your interests are processed and sent to commercial customers where they are instantly reconstituted and the emails come at you in an explosion of unsolicited emails.
Since all the stores and the titans of capitalism are already tracking me, why should I care if the NSA joins in?


Mr. Safier....I share your concern about school records. However InBloom must obtain these records from a a school unless they are illegally hacking into a data base. If a school is giving them the info then the school should be brought to task.

One of the down sides to the digital age is that there is a lot of info stored in not so secure 'vaults'.


Safier and I are often on opposing sides. However, I suspect he and I would find common ground on the issue of privacy. Gates' funding of InBloom and the Common Core standards (which Gates also funded) go hand in hand.

Let's go further. I am not convinced that Snowden is a traitor. His actions informed a public of massive domestic spying by this administration. Some people will quibble that it all started with George Bush. Yes, Bush and Congress started the program by spying on foreign telephone calls. Obama and Congress expanded it to all domestic communication activity. Which of these two programs is more evil?

Recently I read an interesting quote: " . . . The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act . . . But I've come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, "Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism." I'm afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security."

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