Person Identifier vs Unique Identifiers

When it comes to school data and child-specific data housing, there are several laws and regulations put in place in order to protect students’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) statutes and implement regulations and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule are two main regulators who help to protect this data.

According to FERPA, PII is of the highest importance for States, and if you’re reading this article, it’s likely important to you as well. So how does one ensure the highest quality, most accurate identifiers, protecting PII, all without risking any FERPA or HIPPA Violations?

The answer: A Good Unique Identifier

What is a unique identifier?

A Unique Identifier is a number, code, passcode, or other person-specific data that allows an individual to be specifically identified. Traditionally in the education space, Unique Identifiers are assigned at a club, school, district, or state agency level to a person and used at the associated location. Unique Identifiers are used to help schools, districts, clubs, state agencies, and other organizations to identify unique individuals when other identifiers such as name, birthday, or address may match with another person. An example of a Unique Identifier that everyone is familiar with is a Social Security Number. However, with this identifier is very valuable and a number that needs to stay secure. Therefore, people cannot walk around their whole life giving this number out to identify who they are.

What is a unique identifier good for, and how does a unique identifier protect PII?

This is where assigned unique identifiers come into play. A good unique identifier does not utilize any PII and does not violate any HIPPA or FERPA laws. It does so by automatically generating a numeric combination and assigning it to a unique individual. This identifier is then entered into the associated school or agency’s database, never to be assigned to another individual again. However, how these are managed and maintained across time, location, and source systems is what makes the difference between a person and a unique identifier.

In education and other similar fields, what is the difference between a unique and a person identifier?

Unique Identifier: This is an identifier that can be assigned at a local school, club, or district, and does not necessarily always follow the student or staff from location to location, or in other words, across time.

Person Identifier: A person identifier is also a unique identifier, but follows a person throughout time, location, services, education, and career. Person IDs, once assigned, will follow the person, whether they’re a student or teacher, wherever they go within, as person IDs are managed at a state level. A Person ID is a powerful aid to any state looking to implement better and more effective longitudinal data. True Person IDs eliminate any duplication, misidentification, and overlapping record issues that states may face. They also provide crosswalks to link local IDs to what’s commonly called a “Golden Record.”

The Unique Person Identifier created and managed by eScholar Uniq-ID can be used by all source systems as the Master Person ID at multiple levels (e.g., schools and districts) and by State agencies. It is a true person ID system that can follow a person’s educational path from early childhood, PK-12, postsecondary, and even the workforce.

eScholar Uniq-ID is a comprehensive identity management solution that can assign IDs, match, and link person records across time, geography, and source systems.  The eScholar Uniq-ID solution is highly configurable, allowing agencies to implement the solution based on their specific requirements and regulations. The identifiers are randomly assigned and never duplicated. They are also not constructed through an algorithm related to the individual’s attributes, which provides greater protection of the individual’s privacy. It is a person-centric model for matching.

eScholar Uniq-ID includes a user-friendly front-end interface and database that are both compliant with FERPA, audit controls and other laws related to the education sector. Data security is of the utmost importance here at eScholar, therefore we’ve taken extra precautions to ensure the data transmitted in our system is secured at the highest level.

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