The U.S. Department of Education has disabled access to many full-text documents in its digital research library after officials discovered a security breach that made personal information for individuals associated with some of the published studies available on the site.
The breach to the Education Resources Information Center, or ERIC, was discovered in early August, according to a notice on the site.
“Sensitive personally identifiable information,” including social security numbers, was released in multiple documents. The documents had been available in microfiche for years, but “the advent of Internet search engines has made it easier to find this information,” said the notice. The ERIC website was revamped this year to allow for search optimization. The library has over 400,000 full-text documents, all of which have been taken down. The center hopes that none of the documents will be taken down permanently, according to Ruth Neild, the new commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, which oversees ERIC.
IES had “no way” of knowing that private information was contained in the documents until one of the affected individuals found a problem and alerted a staff member there, she said.
ERIC will assemble a team, expected to be ready by late September, to search through every full-text document for private information. Much of this will be done by hand, the notice states. Officials are hoping to allow access to some documents again by the end of October, and will continue releasing others “on a rolling basis,” according to the statement on the site.
Documents will be made available by priority, starting with those requested by users, and then by publication date from newest to oldest. The center has already been getting several requests for documents, said Neild, which may take several weeks to put back online. “We’re trying to be both responsible and responsive,” she said.
ERIC provides access to more than 1.4 million bibliographic records of education-related materials, dating back to 1966, and is used frequently by education researchers, school leaders, education policymakers, and the media. Over the past seven months, ERIC has averaged 577,523 full text downloads a month.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.