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Legislators Introduce Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act

Following a call by President Obama, new bipartisan legislation would prohibit third parties from buying student data collected by schools and tech companies.

On April 29, legislators took another stab at trying to protect student data.

Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and Luke Messer (R-Indiana) introduced bipartisan legislation called the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, which would seek to protect kindergarten through high school students by placing a prohibition on the sale of their data to third parties, requiring tech companies to disclose the data they collect, and granting the Federal Trade Commission with new powers to enforce those rules.

“The status quo surrounding the protection of our students’ data is entirely unacceptable,” Polis said in a statement. “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.”

The bill’s introduction follows a call by President Obama this January for new rules to protect student data, and it follows many other bills aiming to accomplish similar goals. More than 170 bills on student data privacy and security have been considered this year, according to a statement by Aimee Rogstad Guidera, president of the Data Quality Campaign.

“While laws are necessary,” Guidera said in a statement, “it is not possible to legislate trust; 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.”

The Data Quality campaign supports the Student Data Principles, a list of 10 commandments that 38 national education institutions have pledged to uphold.

And according to the Software & Information Industry Association, the newly introduced bill is essential for the protection of student data.

“While there are already multiple layers of student privacy protection in place, it makes sense to review policies and practices. To that end, we appreciate the commitment of Representatives Messer and Polis to the issues of student privacy and data security,” according to a statement released by the association. “As it considers privacy legislation, Congress must avoid unnecessarily adding to the patchwork of state laws and federal regulations that already govern schools and service providers. Doing so could limit student access to advanced learning technologies that are essential to modern education. For this reason, our highest priority is ensuring a student data regulatory framework that is harmonious and clear for everyone, including families, educators and the school technology sector."

As technology continues to drive American education forward, issues around student data privacy and ownership will only grow larger.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.