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Education Department gave loan applicant data to FBI anti-terror program

[JURIST] The US Department of Education [official website] gave personal data about several hundred student loan applicants to the FBI [official website; JURIST news archive] as part of an anti-terrorism program called Project Strikeback, the New York Times reported Friday. Under the program, which began after the September 11 attacks, the Education Department checked names sent by the FBI against the 14 million records in its student aid database. Matching records, which may have included addresses, Social Security numbers and income figures, were then forwarded to the FBI. Assistant FBI Director John Miller [official profile] defended the program, saying that it was narrowly targeted and that terrorists have taken advantage of student aid programs through identity theft. Although she said no cases of fraud were uncovered by the program, an Education Department spokeswoman said the Privacy Act of 1974 [text] allows agencies to share certain information "for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity." Project Strikeback was mentioned in a 2004 Government Accountability Office report [text, PDF] on data mining [Wikipedia backgrounder], but little was publicly known about it until the program was investigated by a Northwestern University journalism student.

The Education Department's Commission on the Future of Higher Education [official website] is evaluating a proposal for a national student database intended to help hold colleges accountable for student performance. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has "serious concerns" about such a database [NAICU materials], which it believes would lead to more sharing of personal data among government agencies. The New York Times has more.

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