Department of Education Gave Student Information to FBI

WASHINGTON – A Department of Education program that scanned through millions of students’ records searching for the names of terrorists has recently come to light. Called “Project Strike Back,” it used data-mining to analyze student federal financial aid and college enrollment forms, and gave the information to the FBI.

Many students are unaware of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid’s (FAFSA) privacy policy, which states that information it collects may be shared with law enforcement. Information FAFSA collects includes Social Security numbers, tax returns, personal savings and other detailed financial and personal information.

The department’s database contains the informatiojn of approximately 14 million students who apply for aid. According to the FBI, however, less than 1,000 names were considered suspicious or run through the bureau’s databases.

The program, which lasted five years, was recently cancelled after news reporters discovered it. It is unknown if the program led to any arrests.

In response to the disclosure of this program, FBI Assistant Director John Miller released the following statement:

“During the 911 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor. When we asked for the cooperation of the Department of Education’s Office of The Inspector General, it was to run names of subjects already material to counter-terrorism investigations against the databases to look for evidence of either student loan fraud or identity theft. No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for. This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names. This is part of our mission, which is to take the leads we have and investigate them. There was no attempt to conceal these efforts, in that they were referenced in publicly available briefings to Congress and to the General Accountability Office (GAO). ”

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