What Happened with Student Data Privacy in 2014

While federal student data privacy legislation didn’t pass this year, Congress did take up the matter along with state legislatures and industry members.

This focus on student data privacy shed light on vendor practices and contract provisions, as well as the approach that school districts take to protecting students’ privacy.

Data privacy concerns

Privacy advocates, school district leaders and parents asked a lot of questions this year about how to keep student data private without restricting students’ ability to learn with new technology. Here were some of the top issues surrounding student data privacy in 2014:

Data benefits without compromise: Because of student data privacy concerns that come with education technology use, school district leaders worried that policymakers would overreact by restricting access to technology too much. Both school administrators and privacy advocates emphasized that it is possible for schools to help students learn through technology without compromising their privacy.

The student data privacy burden: It’s easy to blame vendors for privacy problems. But state policymakers and school district leaders should take on the responsibility for making sure student data stays private, the Data Quality Campaign says.

Data repository raises red flags: A Carnegie Mellon University project sets out to analyze learning and behavioral data in a repository that researchers from multiple institutions, vendors and other third-parties will have access to. With lots of software click data, chat dialogues and biometric information, this project faces student privacy questions.

Ad scanning debaucle: Even though Google didn’t actually serve ads to students in its Apps for Schools program, the company was still scanning their emails like it does with adult accounts for advertising purposes. After a public outcry, Google changed its policy.

Industry efforts

After intense scrutiny, some members of the vendor community decided they needed to formally take a stand for data privacy.

Privacy pledge: Led by the Software Information & Industry Association and the Future of Privacy Forum, 14 K-12 school service providers signed a pledge to keep student data private. While others have signed on since then, many of the big players in education technology didn’t. And the fact that this pledge is even necessary shows that not all companies are handling student data privacy well and that more transparency is needed.

Federal level policy

Privacy advocates and others in the education community say that the federal
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) laws are outdated and don’t account for the way student data is used in the Digital Age.

A call for federal legislation: In a congressional hearing on student data privacy, privacy advocates urged Congress to update student data privacy laws, while industry representatives said the existing law protected privacy enough.

Federal legislation introduced: Two senators introduced federal legislation this year to update federal student data privacy laws, but it didn’t really go anywhere.

White House recommendations: While the legislature started dealing with student data privacy, the White House got into the action with a report that recommended the federal government should ensure that student data is only used for educational purposes.

State level policy

While the U.S. legislature didn’t get any data privacy legislation passed this year, state legislatures had a busy year regulating biometric information and third-party handling of data, among other things.

States take action: Governors across the nation signed more than 25 bills into law that deal with student data privacy. We painted a national picture of the legislation that was signed, what it will do and why it’s important.

California passes tough privacy law: The Golden State sent two bills to the governor that protect student data privacy and ended up seeing both of those laws go on the books.

Biometric gets the boot: A number of states prohibited the collection of student data through biometric and radio frequency identification technology in their legislation. Schools were using biometric technology in cafeterias, while radio frequency identification technology appeared in student ID cards.

Lessons learned

Student data privacy problems provided a textbook example of what not to do in some school districts — and that’s helpful for other school districts who want to avoid pitfalls.

Privacy failures reveal lessons: It’s important to protect student data privacy at a high level, and a bankruptcy court case involving ConnectED demonstrated why. During the bankruptcy process, the company ended up selling student data, and it left school districts in limbo as they tried to get that data destroyed.

Data access problems hurt NYC: An audit found that six New York school districts didn’t do a good job of protecting their student data. District staff, vendors and Regional Information Center employees didn’t always have appropriate access to student data — meaning they could see student data that they shouldn’t be seeing. That’s why it’s important to keep data access policies and practices up to date.

A lot happened with student data privacy in 2014, and privacy advocates say that this issue won’t be going away any time soon. Stay tuned in 2015 to see what’s happening with student data privacy and education technology.

Published by the Center for Digital Education at http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/Student-Data-Privacy-in-2014.html

You might also like A National Look at Student Data Privacy Legislation
by Tanya Roscorla on the Center for Digital Education at http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/A-National-Look-at-Student-Data-Privacy-Legislation.html

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