COIMBATORE: Information is the driving force behind the events of day-to-day life. Just as depicted in the Tamil film Irumbu Thirai ‘information is power’. School students in the State have become potential victims of harassment as their personal information is being sold to private consultants and colleges allegedly by some unscrupulous officials in the school education department.
Sources alleged that the department's officials have been selling data of Class X and Class XII students to colleges.
R Jayalakshmi (name changed), a Class XI student, said that private colleges and consultants have been calling her daily, nagging her to join their colleges.
R Manoj Kumar, a parent who runs a vegetable shop in the city, said, "My son completed class X in a government school and joined class XI in the same school. Staff from polytechnic colleges have been calling me continuously asking to admit my son to their colleges. I receive at least 13 calls from various colleges in a day. It affects my daily routine."
Many parents have said they are being bombarded by phone calls from colleges with offers of admission. But how are colleges getting their contact information?
The New Indian Express spoke to faculty at a few private colleges and learnt that colleges and education consultancies were getting student details compiled on a CD from a few education department officials.
A professor at a Coimbatore college, on condition of anonymity, said, "I contacted a person who works at the district education department office to source the contact information of 2,500 students. The staff bargained that I pay Rs 2 for every number he gave me. I paid Rs 5,000 and got the information. Many other colleges get the information in similar ways."
To verify this, The New Indian Express had a person pretend to represent a college and call up Pandian (name changed), an official in the Pollachi district education office. Pandian first sought details of the college, before agreeing to meet in person and hand over the data.
When The New Indian Express took the issue to the notice of Chief Educational Officer M Ramakrishnan, he said that he was not aware of any data sale from the Pollachi district education office but assured to take action against Pandian after conducting an inquiry.
Sources alleged that not just in Coimbatore, staff and education officers in the headquarters and other districts have also been selling student data using the Education Information Management System (EMIS) portal. Recently, a message claiming that people could access student databases from 16 districts was doing the rounds on social media.
Appin Technology director N Mohankumar said, "While data is transferred between parties, there is a chance for the girl students' numbers to be uploaded to adult and pornographic websites."
"Similarly, if numbers get leaked, hackers or someone else may use the information to extort students,” he added. He suggested the usage of dual SIM cards — one for personal use and the other for professional calls — for safety. Appin Technology is an information security and ethical hacking private firm based out of Coimbatore.
An advocate, Kumar, cited Section 43A of the (Indian) Information Technology Act, 2000 which says that a company or an individual may be held liable and be charged to pay compensation in case of failure to protect data.
"The school education department has failed to keep student data securely and those involved should be punished. The State government should instruct that data be maintained safely in government offices. The government should also launch an inquiry into the issue,” he added.
Repeated attempts to reach school education minister Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi and Commissioner K Nandhakumar went in vain.