Can you steal from something that does not exist?


Take me on a tour of the cloud where InBloom will soon post the data attached to millions of public school students statewide.

You can’t, because it is amorphous, more a concept and a storage solution than a physical destination.

Many of us use clouds — online storage systems — in our everyday lives; Dropbox, Google Drive and the like. Even at age 74, I use Dropbox for my work and a cloud provided by to store photos and other items I don’t want coagulating my computer.

So, the question becomes, especially to parents whose children will have every secret of their young lives put into a cloud system by the state, can you steal from something from a cloud and, if you do, will there be retribution.

A judge in federal court says that stealing from a cloud makes on liable for damages to the victim of the theft. In a ruling in late December, Judge Robert Sweet ruled that a capitol management firm stole business information and records put onto the cloud by a wealth manager and used it for their own benefit.

The records included years of personal financial information for 12,300 of the wealth manager’s clients. The management firm argued basically that what was on the cloud was out there in public, where anybody could use it because it was on a publicly used cloud. The judge disagreed.

Which bring us to InBloom. New York State has a contract with InBloom, a non-profit company funded by reform millionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates and that will aggregate every last piece of educational data on every student in the state —± including disciplinary records, special education evaluations, grades, attendance, teacher comments and the like — and place that information on a cloud run by the company. The state says that the cloud will be secure and that only those with authorization — school systems, teachers and parents — will have access to the cloud through “dashboards” provided for that purpose.

State officials say the information will never be sold to third parties, but admitted that there is no way to guarantee security.

New York State Education Commissioner John King got a loud laugh from the mostly-hostile crowd at Mineola High School on Nov. 13 when he admitted that InBloom was as secure as they could make it, but there was never a guarantee that online date couldn’t be hacked. “Tell that to the national security agency,” one man yelled out, referring to the breach in the super-secret agencies data last year.

One participant at the meeting took up the question head on, asking King if she could opt-out of the program for her elementary school student.

“I am concerned about protecting the privacy of my student,” she said. “As he is a minor, I should be the one to decide which information about him goes into the cloud and which does not.”

King told her that the state needed the information to make decisions and that federal law required that the state collect that information. “There can be no opt-out because we are required to aggregate that information,” he told the parent, assuring her that it would be kept safe, and never given or sold to an for-profit corporation or other entity. Our goal is to protect our students, but to provide the same information available now in richer districts to poorer districts as well,

“What every you put in there about my son will be there forever,” the parent said. “Will it be used someday for college entrance, or by prospective employees? You’re turning over my child’s private information to a corporation, albeit a non-profit. Nobody can tell me that any data that’s online or in a cloud can’t be mined by somebody with good computer skills.”

Because parents know instinctively that the data will not be secure and that they can expect a phone call from some salesperson saying, “We see your child has been absent from school 32 times this year and has been suspended five times. What you need is our counseling service that will guarantee, for only $200 a month, that your child will be back on the educational track in only six months.”

Or, “We see that your third grade daughter is on level two in both math and reading and studies show that she will probably never graduate from high school, go to college or get a good job. We can help get those scores up with our new website, developed by educational specialists from Harvard University, and you can access our full package for only $125 a month.”

State Chancellor Merryl Tisch reported last week that she will appoint a panel of five other Regents to study the questions revolving around Common Core and InBloom and report back sometime next year. That might well be too late. By that time, the data will be in the cloud and your phone might be ringing off the hook.