5 May 2008
A CENTRALISED student register compelling all Victorian students under the age of 25 to be allocated a uniform student number and monitored by authorities, is unnecessary, unjustifiable and may constitute a threat to students’ privacy according to senior members of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty Victoria).
The Education and Training Reform Amendment Bill 2008, which is being debated this week in the Victorian Legislative Council, has the suggested aim of catching students who may ‘fall through the cracks’ of the education system when they leave one school and avoid enrolling in another. However, when put to the test, the Bill does not enable authorities to fulfil this purpose by contacting such students. Liberty is concerned that the introduction of the compulsory number represents a first step to introduce the controversial Victorian Student Card.
Liberty Victoria past President Brian Walters SC believes that the safeguards outlined in the Bill to protect student information from being misused are inadequate. While the Bill allows students and parents to provide their student numbers to anyone, there are no restrictions to stop others from asking for it, effectively allowing authorities to demand the number and join it with other personal information to the detriment of students’ privacy. Mr Walters SC is concerned that “authorities will demand the information and it may then be used for a wide variety of purposes currently not sanctioned or foreseen in the legislation”.
Furthermore, although the Bill makes it a criminal offence for unauthorised use of the data associated with the number, these provisions do not apply to ‘statutory authorities’; the very bodies responsible for monitoring and using the data. As such, the Victorian public is left to depend on processes internal to government to ensure that the register will not be misused, and that unnecessary information will not be collected or disseminated. These safeguards are plainly insufficient. This Bill, without serious amendments, should not be passed.