Back in 1982, the Violent Femmes urged a generation not to get so distressed about something being put on our permanent records. To the band’s young followers, it was a comforting reminder that for all the vice principal’s rage and all of the demerits in our file, most of our elementary school antics, tween outbursts, and adolescent trouble-making probably wouldn’t condemn us to an adulthood of suffering and punishment.
But, then, that was before the rise of Big Data—before the era when “permanent” went from a somewhat figurative to a truly literal description of our personal information. Yes, today because they are electronic, our records are truly permanent. They live in perpetuity and in a forever searchable state. And with data storage costs continuing to drop, the marginal price of indefinitely keeping them is no longer prohibitive. That brings up a big moral question: Is it OK to subject even young children to this brave new world by creating permanent records of their behavior that can electronically follow them for their entire lives?