Strike This

So I had the following conversation with my lender today:

“Thank you for calling VSAC, this is so and so, how are you?”

“Uhm, great. How are you?”

“Good, the weather’s great in Burlington today.”

“Really? That’s cool. We’re having nice weather here too.”

“So what can I do for you today?”

“I’m calling to find out if I can get an economic deferment for a couple of months?”

“Well, we have a couple of options to explore here. Let’s start with your account number…”

“Uhm, it’s *number*.”

“Ok, and what was your income last year?”

“Er….*number*”

“Really?”

“Uhm, yeah.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Wait…and you’re not in deferment now?”

“Er, no, I’m just having some trouble making my September payment and I was wondering if maybe I could defer for a month or two.”

“Well, uhm, given your income, yeah, I don’t see a problem with that. You can download the forms on our website and mail those right in, and I’ll go ahead and put a temporary approval on your account.”

“Cool, thanks.”

“Wait…I just have to ask you, this isn’t like an official question or anything…you *seriously* made that much money last year, and you live in California?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“That’s insane. How do you pull it off?”

“Uhm…with a lot of credit cards, mostly.”

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned lately that I love VSAC, but I do. A lot. They are the most super cool awesome lender in the entire world. The service is always impeccable, friendly, and helpful. I’m so glad to work with them, and I don’t usually say that about people I owe large sums of money to. I’m not just saying this because I want my deferral to go through: I genuinely like them.

And apparently I’m not the only one with student loans on the brain, given the article I read late last night.

I’m not sure how many of you are aware of a program known as Project Strike Back, but if any of you are students, or were students, or plan on being students, you might want to read up on it. Launched in the days after the 11 September attacks, the project was designed to see if terrorists were abusing the Federal Student Loan System. Created in the heady days when the government could do pretty much anything it wanted openly, it surprises me that there’s so much secrecy surrounding the program.

I hope you’ve all made FOIA requests to the FBI, at least, although depending on your needs you may want the complete list of FOIA departments. (Now there’s government efficiency for you!) What concerns me is that information like this may not appear on FOIA documents, or may be so severely redacted that you can’t tell who requested it, when, or how it was used.

Essentially, the FBI gave the Office of the Inspector General a list of names and asked that they be checked on, and if the names matched up with those of students, their financial data was pulled and carefully scrutinized to see if being a student might be possibly a terrorist cover. This might explain why a lot of students experienced unneccessary audits of their data in the last five years. While I’m all for tracking down people who defraud the student loan system, it makes me a bit squicky to think about my data being pulled and investigated without my knowledge–such is the price of Federal Loans, I suppose.

I don’t know if you know this, and the USA Today article I linked to spells this out as well, but law enforcement agencies are able to seek an exemption to the Privacy Act, which governs student loan data. Amazingly, most of the educational community didn’t know about the project, and wasn’t aware that student loan data was being used in the ongoing war on American rights…er terror. I’d like to think that my lender protected me, given their general attitude, but they may have been powerless.

And, honestly, how many terrorists are going to go to the effort of defrauding the student loan system? Truly? It’s kind of a pain of the ass. They’d be better stealing from the till at work, given how much money the government reluctantly doles out to those pursuing higher education.

I’m a huge fan of privacy, myself, and I’m starting to feel as though every day I’m reading about a new violation of privacy rights. How much are you willing to give up, and how much of your personal information do you want floating around? Do you even know what the government knows about you? Why do I feel like the terrorists are winning?

[Project Strike Back]