Sexual orientation of millions of students saved in UK government database

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A Freedom of Information request by BuzzFeed revealed that the British government is storing data about the sexual orientation and religious beliefs of more than  three million students in a large database. This is happening without the knowledge of the students in almost all cases.

The records of the sensitive information go back to 2012/2013, which means the data is kept after they are no longer students. They’re stored by the Department for Education (DfE) in named data, rather than anonymous statistics.

The data held is part of the National Pupil Database, but is specifically collected and passed on to the government by the High Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

Information from the DfE states that holding the sensitive and personal information, or “special category data,” has a lawful basis under GDPR Article 9(2)(j): “Processing is necessary for archiving in the public interest, scientific, or historical research or statistical purposes.”

A DfE spokesperson told Buzzfeed: “We take data protection extremely seriously and we keep all personal information safe – in line with legal requirements. The information collected by HESA and shared with the department is done so we can meet our public sector obligations to carry out equalities impact assessment.”

However HESA, which shares the information with the DfE in the first place, does share the data with other organisations. These include funding bodies in Scotland and Wales and the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS, in turn, can then share data with other organisations, including private companies.

The government stance is that organisations are only obliged to make clear where they will share the information, not where it will be shared by the next organisation once it is passed on, and it is often unclear to students that their information will reach the DfE database.

Jim Killock, executive director of digital campaigning organisation Open Rights Group, told Buzzfeed it was “simply unclear and unfair to be collecting and sharing information like this. People should opt in when data is shared. It shouldn’t be passed from one organisation to another in this way, unless that is made clear and agreed upfront.”

Buzzfeed found that some universities were not making it clear in their privacy policies how students’ information would be used.

Comments 5

  1. Probably more idiotic incompetence from our public bodies. Sigh….
    I’d not like to think it’s nefarious…

    Then again England has gone completely loopy these last 20 years. Westminster is pure shit. London is a monster out of control and seemingly the majority of the English population are walking a knife edge towards fascism.

    Cambridge Analytica after all.

    SNP ya Bass!!

  2. The lesson is to never, ever give information to government bodies and when older, keep social workers out of your life.

  3. In the 60’s I was very cavalier about letting my homosexuality be known officially — I was in Manhattan; I was a dancer; I wasn’t obviously gay but didn’t hide it either — then 2 decades later AIDS appeared on the scene and some politicians and many fellow citizens were seriously talking about rounding us all up and putting us in a camp in the Mohave Desert (or somewhere similar). It didn’t happen, but it definitely gave me pause. You don’t have to go all the way back to Berlin in the 30’s; governments can easily become powerful enough to do anything they want with us.

  4. I read somewhere that during WW2, Parliament passed a law placing, “every British Subject’s life, talent and property at the disposal of the Crown.” King George VI was given more ‘legal’ authority over the British Empire than the Reichstag gave Adolf Hitler over Germany. To my knowledge, that law was not just for the duration of the war, had no expiration, and was never repealed. One of you Brits can correct and update me on this. Thanking you in advance…

    Before WW2, in the 1930s, Britain kept close watch on any pupil or student who showed above-average ability, and those records comprised a sort of “brain bank” that the government would access should the need ever arise. They didn’t want to risk their best and brightest being squandered on the battlefield as it was in WW1.

    The UK has always taken an interest in its ‘special subjects’ – special for whatever reason. I’m sure Her Majesty’s Government keeps many different lists, of all sorts, for lots of its own reasons.

    William Shirer observed, civilization is a very thin veneer over the German psyche. Individually, Germans are most estimable, collectively they are dangerous.

  5. Understand not the complaint here. Can not figure this all as something new nor odd. Abram Lincoln sleeps in the same bed as another male guy. He also has a guy walking around the White House in his underwear. Some lgb+ say that Lincoln is gay. Do hear such from foreign others who hate America. This to all to ask that whatever is of a know about you is a what ?

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