In July of 2014, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation to help guard the educational records of US students — and now that initiative is getting a reboot.
The "Protecting Student Privacy Act" is a reaction to the $7.9 billion PreK-12 educational software and digital content market, which has almost all school districts relying on cloud services for data collection, student performance analysis, and data hosting, along with other functions. In a July 30, 2014 release, Senator Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee said:
"With the business of storing and sifting through records of students growing as fast as students are, Congress must act to ensure that safeguards are in place for data that is shared with outside companies. This legislation ensures the parents, not private companies, control personal information about their children and that it won't be sold as a product on the open market.
One survey found that only 25% of districts inform parents of the use of the cloud services and 20% of districts do not have policies which govern the use of online services. Changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) have caused an increase in the sharing and use of student data in the private sector. According to Sen. Hatch:
"Students may well have more of their personal data stored by third parties than anyone, and the widespread storage of this information puts students at risk that this data could fall into the wrong hands. This legislation establishes security safeguards to ensure greater transparency and access to stored information for students and parents. Further, it includes a provision banning data mining for marketing or advertising purposes and other common sense protections for students' personally identifiable student data.
This week, Sens. Markey and Hatch have reintroduced a bill to protect students' information privacy online. This time the legislation includes a requirement for educational software and digital content companies to protect students' personal data, the prevention of using students' personal data (or personal identifiable information known as PII) for targeted marketing, giving parents the right to access PII and amend it, a requirement for disclosing which outside parties have access to the information, minimizing PII obtained, and a requirement that the PII be removed when it has served its educational purpose.
Although currently 95% of school districts send student records to outside companies to manage school data, only 7% of the districts "directly prevent the companies from selling students' data that includes everything from grades to test scores, attendance records and family relationships." The new bill will update FERPA, writes John Eggerton for New Bay Media.
Meanwhile, Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) is introducing a bill, the "Student Privacy Protection Act", with new rules for schools and educational agencies that release students' education records to third parties. His legislation would allow protections for homeschooled children as well.
"Parents are right to feel betrayed when schools collect and release information about their kids," Vitter said in a press release announcing the measure. "This is real, sensitive information – and it doesn't belong to some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. We need to make sure that parents and students have complete control over their own information."
The bill would also clarify who can access student information and what part of the data is accessible. It will require that agencies obtain prior consent from students or parents and to implement measures to ensure records remain private, or be liable and face fines. There is also be a required extension of FERPA's protections to ensure that homeschooled students maintain their equality. Vitter also wants to prohibit educational agencies, schools, and the Secretary of Education from including personally identifiable information which is obtained from federal or state agencies through data matches from being in student data, reports Dr. Susan Berry, writing for Breitbart.
The bill has gained support from the American Principles Project, parent activists, the Eagle Forum, which has as its mission to enable conservative and pro-family men and women to participate in the process of self-government and public policy, and the Home School Legal Defense Association.