Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

UK's "Unique Learner Number"

Hmmm.. This sounds like trouble waiting to happen for kids in the UK. According to

British students aged 14 to 19 will have their school records permanently placed on an electronic database accessible to prospective employers. The project, called Managing Information Across Partners (MIAP), will launch in September. The record will include personal details and exam results and will remain with the pupil for life.
The system will be based on a Unique Learner Number. "The Unique Learner Number, necessary to acquire a learner record for the diploma is a unique identifier that can be used by a learner for life," MIAP said on its Web site. "It is a national number that is validated and is therefore deemed to be unique." The aim is to expand the system to include other information and to allow details already available but scattered across many databases to be brought together, it said." The pupil would have control over the record and would be able to restrict the information shared.

Maybe. Or maybe not. As the story goes on to point out:

The ability of official [UK] bodies to keep personal data secure has been questioned by a spate of recent scandals. In December, nine NHS trusts lost 168,000 patient records. A month before, the details of 25 million child benefit claimants went missing. And information on 3 million learner drivers disappeared during that time. Government plans for national identity cards have also been criticized for their expense and so-called Big Brother infringement.

As I pointed out last year in my big PFF study on online age verification, school records provide a gold mine of information about children. In fact, school records are among the only reliable records that are created about kids. But, at least in the United States, we jealously guard access to those records and take extra precautions to protect the privacy of minors and their personal information from bad guys.

After all, if a child's personal information falls into the wrong hands, it could haunt them for life. Kids have clean records that make a coveted prize for identity thieves. Moreover, some cyber-predators would love to have access to more info about kids if they could get their hands on it. That would make it easier for them to find troubled kids who might be ripe for exploitation. This is why we have laws like the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 here in the U.S., which makes it illegal to release school records without written permission from parents. And there are a variety of other state laws the tightly restrict access to school records here in the U.S.

The goal of this UK plan, by contrast, seems to be to make it much easier to collect and move school records about kids around online. Probably not a good idea.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 3:14 PM | Online Safety & Parental Controls , Privacy