Student Privacy Protection Topic of Draft Legislation From Two U.S. Senators

Associate Editor

Companies with access to data on K-12 students would face new requirements under draft legislation that was released for discussion this week by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah.

Among the provisions of the proposed “Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2014” that would impact businesses in the K-12 marketplace are:

  • A mandate for new data-security safeguards they would be required to provide;
  • A prohibition against using personally identifiable student information for advertising;
  • A “data minimization” provision, that would encourage companies to match data requests with non-personally identifiable information wherever possible; and,
  • A requirement that all personally identifiable information held by outside parties (including businesses) be destroyed eventually, so that permanent dossiers on students could not be kept by private companies.

For districts, the requirements would be that they must:

  • Maintain a record of all the outside companies that have access to student information, and
  • Provide parents with the right to access and amend their children’s information.

Markey’s office released a statement explaining the reasoning behind the senator’s proposed legislation: “Recent changes to FERPA [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974] have allowed for the increased sharing and use of student data in the private sector…The draft legislation would ensure that students are better protected when data is shared with and held by third parties, and parents are able to control the sensitive information of their children.”

An industry response came immediately after the announcement

“This draft bill is consistent with the reasonable improvements in national student privacy that Senator Markey has been talking about for months,” said Mark MacCarthy, vice president of public policy for the Software & Information Industry Association, an organization for software and digital content industries.

MacCarthy indicated that the SIIA will review the proposed legislation and work with the senators in coming months “to make sure that any new national student privacy legislation provides for both full privacy protection and the ability to use student data to improve learning.”

The senators’ move came as increased scrutiny is focused on student data privacy, with considerable pushback from the public. Last month, after a federal lawsuit and a report from Education Week, Google announced it would stop scanning and indexing student email messages.  Also last month, the concerns culminated in the collapse of inBloom, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported data management nonprofit that sought to provide a cloud-based repository for districts to securely store student data. Despite early interest by a number of states, ultimately the startup was left with no customers wanting to use their service. 

Earlier this month, a White House report on “big data” recommended “modernizing the privacy regulatory framework” that governs how student data is handled.



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