Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act Would Safeguard Data

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As parents nationwide become more concerned with their kids’ data, Congressmen in Washington, DC are looking at how best to safeguard software-collected student data.

A draft form of the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 proposal is making the rounds.  It currently has bipartisan sponsorship from Democratic Rep. Jared S. Polis of Colorado and Republican Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana.  The bill would push together a former Senate proposal as well as action on the state level from regulators, industry and other sector leaders.

Although consumer groups including Common Sense Media and Microsoft have offered their support to the bill, a number of student advocacy groups have suggested that it does not do enough to restrict what private companies are allowed to do with student data.

“It is a start to try to get at a very complex issue,” says Elana Zeide, an expert on student privacy at the Information Law Institute of New York University, who saw an earlier draft of the bill. “But it’s not going to satisfy a lot of parent advocates, because it leaves a lot of discretion to schools and companies.”

The last five years have seen a dramatic increase in interest pertaining to privacy issues, according to Mike Goldstein, who works with education clients at the law firm Cooley.  A number of technological advances have allowed schools and universities to outsource more basic functions to third-party, for-profit providers than ever before, including books, tests and complete academic programs.

It is these providers who are collecting so much student data, going deeper than merely names, addresses and grades.  Large quantities of student work are being collected and retained in the cloud, from editing done in Google Docs to online conversations with a Khan Academy math program.

FERPA, the current major federal student privacy law, is not helpful because it focuses on the collection of basic demographic information held by the schools themselves.  “There’s been a shift in focus in terms of privacy laws and regulations affecting both schools and colleges — from a focus on what the schools do, to what providers do,” says Goldstein.

Meanwhile, the new draft bill works to bring together a number of separate but related issues concerning student data.  The bill contains security provisions pertaining to how long data can be stored and who can access it.

In addition, transparency provisions are including relating to disclosure and parental notification in the event of a data breach.  The majority of the bill focuses on commercialization, prohibiting the sale of student information and targeted advertising based on student data collected over time.