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Messer, Polis Introduce Landmark Bill to Protect Student Data Privacy

Measure represents the most significant federal attempt to protect student data in decades

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Washington, April 29, 2015 | comments

Representatives Luke Messer (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO) today introduced the bipartisan Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, the most significant federal attempt to protect student data in decades. The bill enjoys the support of nearly two-dozen education groups, parent associations, industry leaders, and privacy advocates.

The landmark bill would encourage innovation and harness its potential to drastically improve student learning, while also providing parents and educators with the certainty that operators cannot misuse student data.

“The status quo surrounding the protection of our student’s data is entirely unacceptable,” Polis said. “It’s like the Wild Wild West – there are few regulations protecting student’s privacy and parental rights, and the ones that do exist were written in an age before smartphones and tablets. Our bipartisan bill is a much-needed first step in providing a framework that can address these concerns of parents and educators while at the same time allowing for the promise of education technology to transform our schools.”

“Evolving technology is changing the way teachers instruct and students learn in the 21st Century.  With that comes new threats to student data privacy that never existed before,” said Messer. “That’s why it’s been a priority for me over the last year to work in a bipartisan way to find the right balance between using technology to improve education outcomes and supporting a parent’s right to protect their child’s personal information.  I think we’ve struck that balance with this bill.”

Under the bill, operators would be prohibited from targeting advertising to a student, selling a student’s information to a third party, and creating a personal profile of a student for a non-school-related purpose.

The bill would also mandate that operators disclose publicly and directly to schools the types of information being collected and how that information will be used. Operators also would have to establish and maintain strong security procedures to prevent data breaches. In the event of a data breach, operators must notify the FTC and all potential victims of the breach in compliance with existing law.

The bill gives parents the ability to authorize the use of student information for a non-educational purpose and the right to access and correct a student’s covered information. Parents also have the right to delete a student’s information that isn’t required by the school to be maintained.

At the same time, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act encourages innovation by permitting school service providers to use information for personalized and adaptive student learning purposes. Providers can also use aggregated and de-identified data (making sure that it can’t be easily re-identified) to improve their products.

Reps. Polis and Messer have been working on student data privacy issues for more than a year. Last year, the two lawmakers convened a diverse working group to address the issue that ultimately produced the Student Data Privacy Pledge.  The pledge has been signed by more than 100 tech firms, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, and has been endorsed by the White House.

And earlier this month, Polis hosted more than two dozen local school leaders in Colorado to further discuss the bill and the challenges of protecting student privacy in today’s modern digital classroom.

The full list of supporters includes AASA, The School Superintendents Association; Alliance for Excellent Education; American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of School Administrators; Association of Educational Service Agencies; Boulder Valley School District; Center for Democracy and Technology; Colorado Association of School Executives; Colorado Education Association; Common Sense Media; Data Quality Campaign; International Society for Technology in Education; Microsoft; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Education Association; National PTA; National Rural Education Association; National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition; State Educational Technology Directors Association; The Education Trust.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING:

James P. Steyer, Common Sense CEO and Founder: "We applaud Congressmen Messer and Polis for their important bipartisan effort to craft a strong federal bill that safeguards the privacy and security of sensitive student data, supports parents, and permits innovation in education and technology. The bill sets forth clear and enforceable rules for ed tech companies that will ensure that students’ personal information is used to enrich their education, not to market to kids or their families. This measure would help foster a trusted online learning environment, so our students can use state-of-the-art online services, websites, and apps to learn and thrive, without fear that their personal information will be exploited for commercial purposes or fall into the wrong hands. Their bill is good for kids and good for the industry and Congress ought to embrace it this year."

Otha Thornton, National PTA President: “Technology is a powerful tool for teaching and learning, but at the same time, it is imperative that students’ academic and personal information is protected. It is a top priority of National PTA to safeguard children’s data and ensure that parents have appropriate notification and consent as to what and how data is collected and used. National PTA is pleased to see this important topic being brought to the forefront and endorses the introduction of the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015. The association applauds Representatives Luke Messer (R-IN) and Jared Polis (D-CO) for their bipartisan leadership and commitment to safeguard student data and privacy. We look forward to working with Congress and engaging with our members to ensure that privacy law is updated to reflect today’s technology-dependent world.” 

Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Data Quality Campaign President and CEO: “The Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act represents an important step by Congress to establish an agreed upon framework of acceptable access, use, and sharing of education data in service of student learning. Congressmen Messer and Polis are to be commended for their leadership in this discussion about the important role of data in education and the need to build transparency, understanding, and trust about how this information is being used and protected.”

Bruce Messinger, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Superintendent: “The collection and appropriate use of student data is critical in addressing the instructional and behavioral needs of students and the data must be collected in an environment of trust and transparency while vigilantly protecting the privacy of students and staff. BVSD is supportive of Reps. Polis and Messer’s efforts to tackle this challenging issue through the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015.”

Bruce Caughey, Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) Executive Director: "The Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) thanks Representative Polis for his leadership on the important and evolving challenge of safeguarding student privacy. This bill will help ensure students' personal data is protected, while schools are able to utilize technology to enhance teaching and learning."

In addition, the following education groups and parent associations released a joint letter this morning endorsing the bill: the School Superintendents Association; American Federation of School Administrators; Association of Educational Service Agencies; International Society for Technology in Education; National Association of Elementary School Principals; National Association of Secondary School Principals; National Education Association; National PTA; National Rural Education Association; National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition; State Educational Technology Directors Association.

“We appreciate the opportunities that you have provided us for input on this legislation and believe that the final bill strikes a good balance between protecting student privacy and promoting personalized learning informed by data and powered by educational technology,” the groups stated.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

The bill text is available here. A fact sheet is available here.
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Tags: Education

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