Florida Lawmakers Approve Education Data-Privacy Bill

Associate Editor

A Florida bill that attempts to ensure education data privacy for students and their families has received nearly unanimous support from state legislators, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill, SB 188, covers phasing out the use of Social Security numbers to identify students in schools’ information management systems; banning the collection of biometric data, which involves using characteristics like fingerprints or voice prints, and prohibiting the collection of information like religious and political affiliations. 

Last week, the bill was approved by the state’s House by a vote of 113-1, and in March it passed the Senate 38-1. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

“After hearing concerns from across the state from students, parents and teachers on privacy issues, Governor Scott worked with the legislature to identify ways to better protect the personal data of Florida’s students,” according to a statement released yesterday to Education Week by John Tupps, a spokesman for the Republican governor. Now, the governor “looks forward to signing this legislation banning the collection of student biometric data and further protecting their private information.”

Collecting so-called biometric data, which includes scans of students’ faces, irises or palms, would be prohibited under the bill. That means Pinellas County schools will have to stop using their palm scanners for cafeteria payments after the 2014-15 school year.  The system cost $155,000, according to Political Fix Florida, a joint bureau of E.W. Scripps and the Tampa Tribune in Tallahassee.

Under the bill, the state’s education department would be directed to create a way to assign a unique identification number to each student so it wouldn’t be necessary to retain students’ Social Security numbers for that purpose. Once students have received the new identification numbers, no district would be permitted to use Social Security numbers to identify students in their schools’ information management systems. 

Districts would also not be able to request or keep information on the voting records, political or religious affiliations of students, their siblings, or members of their families.

For a look at the broader universe of policy focused on student privacy, see my colleague Andrew Ujifusa’s story about proposed legislation on the topic around the country. So far in 2014, 83 bills in 32 states have been put forward addressing student data protection.


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