EdData Privacy Update: 7/24/2015

EdData Privacy Update: 7/24/2015

With ESEA off to conference, another federal student privacy bill (the SAFE KIDS Act) safely introduced, and state legislative sessions winding down, it looked like we might have a minute to catch our collective breath in the world of student data privacy. But not so fast! This week Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced a new bill to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

This bill, the Student Privacy Protection Act, seeks to clarify and strengthen the existing privacy protections in FERPA in several ways:

  • Banning the use of student data in student records for marketing purposes
  • Increasing transparency and informed choice around disclosures of directory information
  • Focusing on describing permissible activities for schools and districts
  • Implementing new privacy and security requirements for service providers and articulating new avenues for collaboration between the Secretary of Education and the Federal Trade Commission around the enforcement of service providers
  • Clarifying the overall language and organization of the law

As the bill continues into markup, there are additional issues around data use and privacy that Representatives will need to consider:

  • All personnel working with student data need data privacy and security training to ensure they know how to safeguard privacy and use education data effectively. It’s unclear how local school and district leaders can meet the new roles and responsibilities outlined in the bill with their current capacity.
  • The bill doesn’t make it clear how those working closest to the ground for children can securely access relevant information about students they serve. Communities should be able to determine if their community-based partners like tutoring and afterschool programs need secure access to limited data in order to help address inequities and provide the best education possible for all students.
  • As in current FERPA statute, the new bill includes provisions on how researchers can access and use data. However, the bill describes research in a very narrow way that would exclude much of the important research on best practices and pathways to success that benefit schools and students.

Along with other recently introduced federal privacy bills, including an ESEA amendment to create a Student Privacy Policy Committee, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, and the recently introduced SAFE KIDS Act, the Student Privacy Protection Act bill helps set the stage for continuing conversations about how we can best safeguard privacy while using data to support our students’ learning and what role the federal government can play. It is encouraging to see so much thought given to these important issues.