Senators unveil student data privacy bill

Senators unveil student data privacy bill
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Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThis week: Congress set for next stage of Mueller probe fight NY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders MORE (R-Utah) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGreen New Deal vote tests Dem unity in Senate Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars MORE (D-Mass.) reintroduced a bill on Wednesday to restrict education companies from selling or using student data to target ads.

The measure would also require private companies to meet certain data security requirements when handling student information.

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“This legislation establishes security safeguards to ensure greater transparency and access to stored information for students and parents,” said Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.  

The bill, first introduced last year, joins a similar bipartisan House measure from Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.).

Lawmakers are seeking to shore up the poor record of student data management at school systems nationwide.

Schools are increasingly turning to third-party, cloud-based services to manage student records and boost classroom education. In fact, the practice is near ubiquitous. According to a 2013 Fordham University study, 95 percent of school districts use an outside, cloud-based service.

But that same study found only 7 percent of school districts sign contracts with these outside education companies forbidding them from selling students’ personal data.

“Data analysis holds promise for increasing student achievement, but it also holds peril from a privacy perspective,” said Markey, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee. “A child’s educational record should not be sold as a product on the open market.”

The Hatch-Markey measure, an update to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), would also include a number of transparency elements.

Parents would be granted the right to access and correct any personal data about their children held by private firms. Schools would also have to make public the list of all outside companies with access to student data.

The Fordham study found only a quarter of school districts inform parents of the cloud services being used.

While the Markey-Hatch bill has bipartisan support, it may face competition in the upper chamber.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is expected to soon introduce his own bill on the issue. The White House has also backed the Messer-Polis House bill, which reflects many elements of the administration’s own legislative proposal.

“There are threats to students when their personal information is in the hands of private companies, and we need to make sure parents have the tools to protect their children,” Markey said.