Bipartisan student data privacy bill hits House

Lawmakers on Monday will introduce a bill limiting what companies can do with digital data collected on kindergarten through 12th-grade students, The New York Times reported.

The bill, called the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, would ban companies from knowingly using student data to create targeted advertising or individual marketing profiles.

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The law would apply to third-party companies operating digital school services, like online homework portals, student email programs, or digital teaching aides.

The members behind the bill — Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.) — told The Times the measure is intended to ease growing worries that student data is being abused.

“This is a first step in providing a framework that can address the concerns of parents and educators and, at the same time, allow the promise of education technology to transform our schools,” Polis said.

The bill dovetails closely with a legislative proposal the White House unveiled earlier this year, which was meant to ensure data collected in the classroom was only used for educational purposes.

The Messer-Polis offering is based on this concept. It includes provisions similar to the White House proposal that require third-party companies to delete student records at a school’s request. The bill would also let schools or parents access and correct any student data on file at a third-party vendor.

But digital rights advocates and education privacy groups have opposed previous iterations of a student online privacy bill, arguing the measures contained numerous loopholes and were largely toothless.

Those same issues are likely to arise with the Messer-Polis bill.

The measure could allow compaies to disclose student data for “employment opportunities,” a vaguely-worded term. And it permits these third-party comapnies to make unilateral changes to their contracts and privacy policies with the school.

“Although this bill has some promising features,” Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Times, “it ultimately fails to uphold President Obama’s promise that the data collected in an educational context can be used only for educational purposes.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has taken the lead on Senate efforts to produce a similar bill and is expected to produce his own measure soon.