Lawmakers propose statewide data warehouse

By SC Policy Council

A little-known proviso (117.155) in the House budget would create a statewide personal information data warehouse. The proviso’s language is vague, the permissions are sweeping, and the accountability mechanisms are completely absent.

This proviso is currently in conference committee – and unless it is taken out in the committee, this all-encompassing data warehouse will be created.

A “universal identification system” to track everyone in the state

The enabling law for this data warehouse was passed last year in a bill that primarily focused on student testing and school rating methodology. Last year’s bill created a “universal identification system” to track individuals from preschool to employment and beyond.

Specifically, the system will track (at a minimum):
•High school graduates entering college with no need for remediation
•Working-age individuals who have college degrees or industry credentials
•High school graduates who obtain jobs within five and ten years of graduation
•Data on student achievement and growth that will help colleges and universities to train better teachers

The law requires the following agencies to provide information to the data warehouse:
•Office of First Steps to School Readiness
•Department of Education
•Department of Social Services
•Technical College System
•Commission on Higher Education
•Department of Commerce
•Department of Employment and Workforce
•Colleges and universities

While this law generally establishes the system, the funding and the actual details of what it is and how it will operate are contained in this year’s proposed budget (as passed by the House). It is important to note that these specific details – the most egregious element of the system – were never presented as a standalone bill that would have gone through the committee process. Instead, they were inserted into the state budget, where they would be hidden from citizens.

The data warehouse will be housed in the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office (RFA) – state government’s research agency.

What is the purpose of this data warehouse?

Simply put, the main purpose of the data warehouse is to track children and funnel them into the workforce.

The data will be used to “shape policy and funding decisions” on everything from preschool to the workforce. It will “link workforce, industry and education data” to meet the goals of the state’s economic development agency – the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development (CCWD) – whose mission is to “enhance the economic growth and development of the State”. The CCWD is tasked with developing a state economic development plan, as well as making policy recommendations to lawmakers (among other things).

The dangers of a statewide data warehouse

While a statewide data tracking system would be concerning enough, the details laid out in this particular proviso are chilling.

•The scope of possible data collection includes nearly everything. While the data to be collected and tracked primarily consists of education (preschool to college) and workforce/employment, the RFA, Workforce and Education Data Oversight Committee (WEDOC), and CCWD could compel any other state agency to submit information to the warehouse – such as health records, criminal records, entitlement and welfare records, etc. The data could be used to create invasively detailed profiles of nearly every individual in the state.
•The data warehouse would be controlled by an unaccountable board of government officials. The RFA (whose board is controlled by lawmakers) would design, control and regulate the data warehouse, answerable only to the WEDOC. This board, created through the budget proviso, would consist of a plethora of agency heads and education officials, chaired by the CCWD chairman (or his designee). This structure would be practically impossible for any single entity in government to hold accountable, and the citizen would have zero influence over the council in control of state data mining.
•Lawmakers and their staff would have direct access to this data. The proviso specifically states that members of the General Assembly and their staff would have access to the data. The possibilities for misuse of private information by legislators – who have virtually unlimited power already – have dangerous implications, not the least of which could involve the use of private data for political purposes.
•Anyone in government could access the data and do practically anything with it. The RFA and the WEDOC would be allowed to strike agreements or make transactions with any federal, state, or municipal agency, public institution, or any private individual, partnership, firm, corporation, association, “or other entity” to service, research and monitor the data. In other words, individuals’ private information could be provided to anyone from the National Security Administration (NSA) to Google, and nothing in this proviso would protect data from being sold to marketing companies.
•The accountability and privacy protections are vague, weak, and – in some cases – nonexistent. The only privacy protection built in to the system is that it must comply with state and federal privacy laws – which are full of loopholes. The proviso states that individual data could not be “released” – a term that is not defined. Given the sweeping research and access permissions spelled out in the proviso, this “protection” is practically worthless. The regulations for how and by whom data could be accessed would be jointly developed by the RFA, the WEDOC, and the state agency supplying the data, with no outside, independent oversight.

From the Department of Revenue hack to the improper disposal of sensitive medical records, South Carolina does not have a reassuring history when it comes to citizen data. This data warehouse is part of a large, dangerous project that would pose multiple threats with absolutely no discernible benefit. South Carolina politicians are the last people who should be determining the future of children and gathering sensitive personal information for any reason – and definitely not to execute their vision of the economy.

Lawmakers will likely consider the conference committee’s budget compromise (which may include this proviso) when they come back for the June 27-28 special session.

Author: Rachel Howell

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