Obama joins bipartisan push on student privacy

The White House is joining forces with members of Congress in both parties to push forward on a new law to protect students’ data.

Reps. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) will work on legislation in the House, the White House said on Thursday, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will take the lead on the effort in the Senate.

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“We’re confident that the Congress will work in a bipartisan manner to advance this legislation and protect kids’ privacy in school while continuing to embrace the innovative educational potential of new technology,” said White House senior adviser John Podesta.

Breakthroughs in new technology are creating “a revolution in education,” he added.

New tools, applications and “smart” textbooks are “enabling lessons to be tailored to students’ individual learning styles,” Podesta said, “but we should be able to encourage those innovations and capture their educational benefit while still protecting kids’ privacy in school.”

President Obama called for a new Student Digital Privacy Act last month, saying that a “straightforward” bill is necessary to make sure that data collected by companies through the course of students’ learning isn’t used to target ads back to them.

“We’re saying that data collected on students in the classroom should only be used for educational purposes — to teach our children, not to market to our children,” he said during remarks at the Federal Trade Commission.

The effort builds on a White House review launched one year ago, in the wake of former government contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency. Amid new concerns about the government’s tracking of people’s data, Obama also wanted to focus on how companies were analyzing large quantities of information about people, also known as “Big Data.”

In addition to calling for new legislation on student privacy, the 2014 White House review led by Podesta expressed concern that companies’ use of “Big Data” could allow companies to discriminate against people.

A new report from the White House out on Thursday said that most “substantive concerns” about companies charging different people different prices based on their background can be solved through existing anti-discrimination, privacy and consumer protection laws. 

Last year's report also called for a new Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and Podesta said the administration will release legislation to act on that by the end of the month.