Obama Pushes Legislation to Protect Student Data

On Monday, the White House called for federal legislation to protect student privacy. While the abundance of data being collected on students has been celebrated as an opportunity to "personalize" education, privacy advocates have long warned against the potential overexposure of students' personal information, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

The Obama administration's new legislative proposal seeks to ensure that data collected in the educational context is used only for educational purposes.

The Student Digital Privacy Act, modeled on a landmark California statute, would "prevent companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes unrelated to the educational mission" while still permitting "important research initiatives to improve student learning outcomes, and efforts by companies to continuously improve the effectiveness of their learning technology products," according to a news release.

In a speech at the headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission, President Obama pitched the Student Digital Privacy Act as a measure to keep companies from misusing data collected in the course of providing educational services to schools, reported the Chronicle.

"We've already seen some instances where some companies use educational technologies to collect student data for commercial purposes, like targeted advertising, said Obama.

New technologies that encourage the collection and analysis of student data increase the risk to privacy, said the president, citing digital textbooks, online tutoring services, and software that helps instructors track student progress in real time.

However, the bill would focus on students in elementary and secondary schools, not college students, according to administration officials.

The measure, which faces strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress, could still influence higher education, though. That's because a lot of data follow students to college, said Michael Abbiatti, executive director of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, a nonprofit that supports e-learning collaborations. So much data get "shipped" across that border, said Abbiatti, that definitions and systems that govern data collection in elementary and secondary schools tend to influence those in higher education.

"The legislation might not mention higher education," he said. But, if it became law, it would "definitely impact higher education."


Related Links

White House News Release


The Chronicle of Higher Education