Parent Activists: Data-Sharing ‘Grinch’ Bill Will Create ‘De Facto National Database’

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The Senate has passed a bill – with only a voice vote and no debate – during the Christmas holiday season that parent activists say will essentially create a “de facto national database.”

The Senate’s approval of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEPA), H.R. 4174, on December 21, will result in a never-before-seen assault on Americans’ privacy, say the activists.

“Passing any legislation in this underhanded manner is an egregious violation of citizen-controlled legislative process in our representative republic,” Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch, wrote at Townhall.

She referred to the voice vote on the bill as a “pre-Christmas Grinch-like maneuver.”

“But this bill is especially bad because of its implications for privacy and the sharing of individually identifiable information across the entire federal government,” she added.

Effrem explained that while FEPA itself does not deliberately create a formal data system with a central storehouse, its requirements that the private data of American citizens be linked and shared among many federal agencies and bureaucrats will lead to the same result.

She further highlighted the concerns of many parent rights organizations:

The federal government is demonstrably incompetent at data security; moreover, it routinely ignores the overwhelming data it already has showing the ineffectiveness of many (most) federal programs. There is no reason to believe an even more enormous trove of data can be secured, or that it will actually change government behavior in any meaningful way.

Most importantly, collecting and holding massive amounts of data about an individual has an intimidating effect on the individual—even if the data is never used. This fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and government. Citizen direction of government cannot happen when government sits in a position of intimidation of the individual.

Effrem likened the passage of FEPA with only a voice vote during the holiday season to the December 2015 passageof the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), referred to by former President Barack Obama as a “Christmas miracle.”

While lawmakers sold ESSA as a measure that would end Common Core in the states, many of the same parent activists observed the legislation – through its mandates – actually cements the Common Core standards throughout the country.

FEPA was introduced into the House by outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan. According to the language in the bill:

This bill requires departments and agencies identified in the Chief Financial Officers Act to submit annually to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress a plan for identifying and addressing policy questions relevant to the programs, policies, and regulations of such departments and agencies. The plan must include: (1) a list of policy-relevant questions for developing evidence to support policymaking, and (2) a list of data for facilitating the use of evidence in policymaking.

The Washington, DC-based American Principles Project (APP) said last year the FEPA legislation “would take the first step toward establishing a massive, centralized federal database that would metastasize into a Chinese-style system of government dossiers on citizens.”

APP explained the rationale behind the bill is that data needs to be analyzed in order to determine if government programs are effective.

“But even if we needed a mammoth database to tell us most government programs do not work, there is little likelihood Congress will stop funding useless or damaging programs merely because it has more data,” the organization stated, citing the continual funding of the Head Start program.

Indiana parent education activist Erin Tuttle wrote at Hoosiers Against Common Core, “It is striking how Congress is completely dysfunctional when it comes to passing legislation that would fulfill their campaign promises to Republican voters, yet pulls it together to pass legislation which does the opposite.”

Tuttle, co-author of De-Constructing the Administrative State, added:

Instead of dismantling the Administrative State, this bill would allow bureaucrats to propose to collect any data on any citizen on any topic they want, to answer their desired policy questions … [M]any Republican members of Congress have been misled to believe HR4174 would allow better transparency in how federal agencies operate.

A group of parent activists and organizations wrote to Ryan and members of Congress, protesting FEPA, as a gift to Big Data and Big Government, and the manner in which it was being rushed through without adequate debate.

“The bottom line is that bureaucrats in the Administrative State, as well as researchers, want a vast trove of data they can access to examine freeborn American citizens as lab rats – without their consent or even their knowledge,” the activists wrote.

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