Lawmakers eye new student privacy law

House lawmakers are taking early steps to heed President Obama’s call and institute new safeguards for information about students.

One key student privacy law has not been meaningfully updated in four decades, lawmakers on a House subcommittee said Thursday, even as new technology makes data about students' education easier than ever to obtain. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“As a father of two young boys, I can appreciate why parents may not have that same confidence today,” said Rep. Todd RokitaTheodore (Todd) Edward RokitaHouse passes year-end tax package Indiana New Members 2019 Braun knocks off Donnelly in Indiana MORE (R-Ind.), the head of the Education and the Workforce subcommittee on elementary and secondary education.

“Despite the advent of computers, the Internet, Wi-Fi, cloud services, et cetera, [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)] has not been significantly updated since its introduction in 1974,” he added. “As a result, student privacy — the very information FERPA was intended to protect — may be at risk.”

The law was meant to protect records about students’ education and empower their parents to access or share it. It has not been updated to include new ways information is collected with the proliferation of computers, software and mobile applications that help students learn and track their progress.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeReporter says to expect Capitol Hill to take action on North Carolina's 9th District House Dems signal possible probe of disputed North Carolina election The 15 Democrats who voted against Pelosi MORE (D-Ohio), the subcommittee’s ranking member, agreed that the law should be updated to “balance privacy and innovation,” so that new types of technologies are not cut off before they can blossom. 

Despite the general agreement for an update, however, lawmakers appeared to have few prescriptions for what to do, which could foreshadow long months of work on the issue.

With the backing of the White House, Reps. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisStates are poised to lead. Here’s why Where does your governor stand on marijuana legalization? First openly gay man to be elected governor sworn in to office in Colorado MORE (D-Colo.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.) earlier this year introduced legislation to prevent data collected by education companies from being used to target advertisements back to them.  

“The question is when it comes to kids’ personal information, do the schools and the government own it and can they sell it?” Polis asked during the hearing on Thursday. “The answer should be, without the parents' consent, no, they don’t have that ability."