U.S. Lawmakers Aim to Strengthen Privacy Protections with New Data Bill

By Benjamin Herold — May 14, 2014 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Digital Education blog

In the hopes of upgrading the security of the mounting volume of sensitive student information held by private companies, two U.S. senators today released a draft of a bill that would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

Among other changes, the proposed “Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2014,” issued by Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah would:

  • Mandate new data-security safeguards for private companies;
  • Prohibit the use of personally identifiable student information for advertising;
  • Provide parents with the right to access and amend their children’s information;
  • Require districts to maintain a record of all the outside companies that have access to student information;
  • Promote “data minimization,” by seeking to meet data requests with non-personally identifiable information wherever possible; and
  • Require that all personally identifiable information held by outside parties eventually be destroyed in order to prevent private companies from maintaining permanent dossiers on students.

“Recent changes to FERPA have allowed for the increased sharing and use of student data in the private sector,” reads a statement issued by Markey’s office. “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.”

The U.S. Department of Education in February released new guidance for schools and districts on the hot-button issue of student data privacy, but many continue to believe that FERPA is too antiquated and weak in the current era of “big data” and digital learning. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently responsed to those concerns in an interview with our Politics K-12.

A number of high-profile instances have recently shone a light on growing concerns about student data privacy. Last month, in the wake of an ongoing federal lawsuit and a report from Education Week, giant online-services company Google announced it would stop scanning and indexing student email messages. Also last month, Atlanta-based nonprofit inBloom, which aimed to serve as a data repository helping to more securely and efficiently connect states and districts to private companies, announced that it will cease operations following huge pushback in a number of states.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.