Lawmakers Delay Student Data Privacy Bill

Amid significant parent pushback, a student data privacy bill drafted in collaboration with the White House has been delayed, according to Inside Higher Ed. U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-CO) and Luke Messer (R-IN) intended to unveil the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act on Monday. A spokesperson for Rep. Messer said that the lawmakers are now aiming for later in the week as they work through "the technical nuances of the bill."

An early draft of the legislation showed that it would aim to ease growing worries that student data is being abused, but continue to let education technology companies collect huge amounts of sensitive student information, Politico reported.

The measure would ban companies that operate school services – like online homework portals, student email programs, or digital teaching aides – from knowingly using student data to create targeted advertising or individual marketing profiles. It would also require vendors to delete students' records should a school request it and allow schools or parents to see and correct student files.

The draft measure hews closely to a proposal unveiled by the White House earlier this year. In January, President Obama called for federal legislation to protect student privacy. Since then, the administration has worked with Polis and Messer to draft the bill to be introduced this week. 

Digital rights and education privacy advocates have already said that the draft bill has major loopholes that would allow school services to use student information in ways students and parents might not expect or find acceptable. For example, the legislation would allow school services to make unilateral changes to their contracts and privacy policies. It permits them to disclose student information for purposes like preparing for "employment opportunities."

The measure would not prohibit sites like ConnectEDU from selling student records as part of a merger or acquisition. Additionally, it would not bar companies like Pearson from monitoring the social media posts of students if those activities are performed on behalf of state educational agencies.

"Although this bill has some promising features," said Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research center in Washington, "it ultimately fails to uphold President Obama's promise that the data collected in an educational context can be used only for educational purposes."

The Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act would focus on students in elementary and secondary schools, but could still influence higher education as definitions and systems that govern data collection in elementary and secondary schools tend to influence those in higher education as well.


Related Links

Inside Higher Ed


The New York Times