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October 5, 2010 Jay Finegan, 287-1445
Rep. Gifford calls for ending project on studentsí Social Security numbers

AUGUSTA – State Rep. Jeff Gifford says the Maine Department of Education (DOE) should terminate the effort to collect the Social Security numbers of students in the state’s public schools.

“In light of the security breach that has already suspended the program, I believe it should be terminated,” said Rep. Gifford (R-Lincoln). “The Legislature passed the law with good intentions, and we were assured that participation was voluntary. But the security breach last month showed that the information could be compromised.

“With identity theft a rampant problem already,” he said, “we need to safeguard the Social Security numbers of our kids, and the best way to do that is keep them confidential. Don’t let the school know what the number is. I think safeguarding the number outweighs any benefit that DOE would derive from collecting it.”

The Maine DOE announced on Sept. 28 that it would delay collecting any more Social Security numbers until an independent security review of the program’s software is completed. Meanwhile, the department has already deleted all Social Security numbers of public high school students collected to date.

The new law requires schools to ask parents for their children’s Social Security numbers, but parents do not have to comply. Educators said the goal of the law is to track how students perform after leaving high school to see which schools and programs work through the use of a so-called Infinite Campus information system. Rep. Gifford said tracking students into adulthood by means of Social Security numbers carries too high a risk of identity theft.

The law already faces a backlash, with school committees in at least 14 cities and towns urging parents not to supply Social Security numbers for their children. At least two legislators are said to be preparing bills to repeal the new law.

“Social Security numbers are too important to be put at risk,” Rep. Gifford said. “If your Social Security number is stolen, it can take years to clear up the potential problems. The Legislature has kicked over a hornets’ nest with this law and people are righty upset. The best course of action now is to end the whole program.”