School boards and administrators have a lot to do to get ready for the first day of school, just a few weeks away.

If they haven’t already done so, they should take the time to develop a policy on the new state law that encourages them to collect students’ Social Security numbers so their performances can be tracked in college and in the work force in years to come.

The long-term studies are a good idea, but this method carries with it a number of risks that should not be ignored.

Social Security numbers are like keys that unlock vast amounts of financial data. School records contain confidential information, including disciplinary records.

Linking these two sets of records with a Social Security number creates serious opportunities for privacy breaches, including identity theft, or affect an individual’s ability to get credit, housing or a job.

News stories have abounded in the past few years that illustrate how easy it is for seemingly secure data to be breached in both private and public databases. In 2006, a disc containing 26.5 million Social Security numbers was stolen from the Veterans Affairs Department. Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain reported a data theft that put 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers at risk in 2008.

Linking data bases creates too many opportunities for the wrong people to put information together in a way that puts people at risk.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union has sent Maine school boards a letter informing them about the potential risk that comes with the misuse of Social Security data, and reminding them that even though a state law permits the collection of Social Security numbers for a tracking study, it does not require it. Parents still have the final say, and should not be given the impression that they have to turn over their child’s Social Security number to school officials.

There is another option. One district’s school board, SAD 44 in Bethel, has passed a resolution calling for a repeal of the law. Other school districts could follow suit.

The data collection is scheduled to start later this year, giving school officials little time to get their policies in order. They could start with a clear message to parents about what is at stake.


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