Witnesses Discuss Need to Modernize Student Privacy Protections

2015-02-12 | Rep Cmte Education and Labor RSS Articles

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) today held a hearing to examine how emerging technology is impacting schools’ ability to safeguard student data. During the hearing, members and witnesses discussed what Congress can do to improve privacy protections, without stifling valuable innovation and research, and the need to update the law that governs student privacy, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). “Despite the advent of computers, the Internet, Wi-Fi, and cloud services, [FERPA] has not been significantly updated since its introduction in 1974,” said Rep. Rokita. “As a result, student privacy, the very information FERPA was intended to protect, may be at risk … Technology organizations and policymakers have taken steps to strengthen student privacy protections. However, these efforts have not addressed rules under which schools must operate as the guardians of student data. Unless Congress updates FERPA and clarifies what information can be collected, how that information can be used, and if that information can be shared, student privacy will not be properly protected.” Shannon Sevier, Vice President of Advocacy for the National Parent Teacher Association, echoed these concerns: “[FERPA] was written in 1974 with the intent to protect the privacy of student educational records and includes a parental consent provision. Over the past 40 years, however, the concept of privacy has evolved from the right of direct control, to an individual’s right to control the information they have entrusted to others. This wrinkle in control requires subsequent change to student data privacy policy.” Similarly, Joel R. Reidenberg, Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair and Professor of Law and Founding Academic Director at the Center on Law and Information Policy said: “[FERPA] is essentially a confidentiality law that was designed to protect students’ paper files. When FERPA became law in 1974, computers did not exist in schools and internet access was decades away… FERPA desperately needs to be updated in order to assure student privacy in the 21st Century and to enable the development of robust educational programs that take full advantage of educational technologies.” Allyson Knox, Director of Education and Policy Programs at Microsoft, agreed that the law intended to protect student privacy should be updated, and she urged Congress to consider a comprehensive approach that maximizes technology’s educational benefits: “Technology in the classroom has resulted in the creation and collection of much more data than ever before … We believe that the new opportunities enabled by technology require thoughtful evaluation and responsible and comprehensive approaches that allow our children to learn with technology in an engaging, safe and respectful manner. Misleading, exploitative, or aggressive advertising practices simply do not belong in the classroom.” “Modernizing student privacy protections without undermining opportunities to improve student achievement is no small task,” concluded Rep. Rokita, “but we owe it to students and parents to work together to find the proper balance.” To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings. # # #

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