My first brush with professional journalism — and with violations of student privacy — came when I was a sophomore at Yale. It was 1999, and George W. Bush, a Yale alumnus, was running for president.
A writer for The New Yorker cold-called my dorm room looking for students who might have access to Bush’s records. By sheer coincidence, a friend of mine who worked in the dean’s office had, out of curiosity, lifted W’s transcript from the files. A Deep Throat-style handoff was arranged, anonymity assured, and the candidate’s grades ran in the magazine. They were mostly C’s.
Today, getting ahold of the transcript of a VIP — or any student — would require less in-person skulduggery and more clever computer searching. That’s because student data has largely moved online in just the last few years. It’s being collected and distributed at unprecedented scale, from the time that toddlers enter preschool all the way into the workforce.
And that shift is forcing policymakers and legal experts to improvise new policies and procedures aimed at protecting the privacy of young people. Critics fear the misuse of student data by hackers, marketers, and most worryingly, by the government authorities who themselves are collecting it.