New Proposed Federal Law Would Limit Use of Student Data to Educational Purposes

Student data privacy legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives [last] Wednesday – a month later than expected but with nearly two dozen high-profile organizations signed on as supporters.

The legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican from Indiana, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, aims to provide guidance for education technology companies and schools that are using technology in new methods of teaching and learning.

The Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act was sent to the House after weeks of debate over a draft version of the bill that had been expected to be ready in late March. The legislation stalled after advocates who had viewed a draft version of the bill said it did not go far enough to protect student data.

The proposed legislation would require companies to disclose what information they collect on students and prohibit businesses from creating profiles with that data for marketing purposes. It would also ban the sale of student information to third parties, require disclosure of data security breaches to the Federal Communications Commission and allow parents to access student information.

The proposed legislation comes at a time when there is national interest in the issue of student privacy. The Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit organization that advocates for use of data in schools, has tracked about 170 state-level student privacy laws introduced in 2015 alone. In March, more than 30 organizations released Student Data Principles, a document that outlines responsible uses for student information so that data can be used to improve academic results.

New classroom technology can use information about students for tasks such as creation of custom lessons for individual students. But with it comes concerns about how sensitive information about children is stored and shared.

Existing federal and state laws protect educational records from disclosure, but additional regulations were proposed to update those rules, because of the growing scope of new technology that can rapidly collect, store and share information about children.

“While laws are necessary, it is not possible to legislate trust,” Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, said in a statement Wednesday. “Building the trust of families that students’ data will be kept safe requires focus on developing the policies, practices, and norms required for everyone with a stake in education to understand their role in keeping student data safe and secure.”

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