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Head of North Dakota’s Public Colleges Talks Data Privacy

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott characterized the rise of cybersecurity and privacy as a “macro revolution,” one that he didn’t believe would be so prevalent on North Dakota campuses today.

(TNS) — The head of North Dakota's public colleges and universities said a "macro technological revolution" is making cybersecurity and data privacy of the utmost importance.

About a year ago, the State Board of Higher Education formed an advisory group to explore and report on issues surrounding data privacy.

Since the formation of that group, North Dakota University System chancellor Mark Hagerott said he didn't expect data privacy would become as prevalent as it is today.

"Eighteen months ago, we (convened the group) because we felt students' data was something that would follow them for the rest of their lives," Hagerott said Wednesday at a data privacy event at Bismarck State College. "Now, it's becoming this huge issue."

Hagerott pointed to recent data privacy scandals within Facebook and a decision Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to outlaw the use of facial recognition surveillance technology.

The event Wednesday at BSC was held to help inform advisory group members as they continue to address data privacy, according to Hagerott.

It included a video discussion with a New York University computer science professor and member of a task force looking at New York City's use of algorithms to aid in decision-making. There was also a representative from Microsoft in attendance.

"We're just trying to think through this, to exchange ideas (and) inform people," Hagerott said.

Also at the event was a recent graduate of North Dakota State University, Jared Melville, who discussed the North Dakota Student Association's draft bill of rights protecting students' data in the university system.

"All kinds of organizations collect massive amounts of data, including the university system, so this bill of rights is largely addressed at ensuring that the university system is appropriately collecting, handling and securing the data it collects on students," said Melville, former president of the student association.

Melville said students have been working on the bill of rights over the past academic year, and it started as part of an "ongoing conversation with the university system over cybersecurity, data privacy" and related topics.

"Naturally, this is kind of something that affects students, so we have an interest in it," he said.

Melville said the student association didn't find any other states with a comparable bill of rights protecting student data in higher education. The closest comparison was in New York, where the state's Education Department has a parents' bill of rights that protects the data of K-12 students.

Hagerott applauded the students' initiative as well as efforts across the state related to data privacy. This includes a recent push to offer computer science and cybersecurity education in K-12 schools, as the state Legislature may launch a study to grapple with personal data issues.

"We don't expect to solve anything today," Hagerott said, adding that he's hopeful discussions will continue.

©2019 The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, N.D.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.