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Protecting Student Privacy Act Sets Limits on Use of School Data

Legislation introduced today in the United States Senate would restrict the use of students' personal data for commercial purposes, limit the transfer of such data and require records to be kept of any entities that have access to students' information.

The bipartisan Protecting Student Privacy Act, introduced today by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). It aims to slow the propagation of student information without parental consent, curb the use of student data in commercial applications and secure data held by private companies.

In a statement released to coincide with the introduction of the legislation, Sen. Markey said, "With the business of storing and sifting through records of students growing as fast as students are, Congress must act to ensure that safeguards are in place for data that is shared with outside companies. This legislation ensures the parents, not private companies, control personal information about their children and that it won't be sold as a product on the open market. I thank Senator Hatch for his bipartisanship and attention to this issue, and I look forward working with all of my colleagues to pass this important legislation."

Among other things, the legislation requires companies to:

  • Have policies and practices in place to secure student data;
  • Keep records of other outside entities that have access to the data they store;
  • Destroy personally identifiable data once it is no longer needed; and
  • Provide access to student data they hold when requested by a parent; and
  • Provide "a process to challenge, correct, or delete any inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise inappropriate data in any education records of such student that are held by the outside party, through an opportunity for a hearing by the agency or institution providing the outside party with access...."

Each of these requirements is tied to federal funding.

"Students may well have more of their personal data stored by third parties than anyone, and the widespread storage of this information puts students at risk that this data could fall into the wrong hands," said Sen. Hatch, also in a prepared statement. "This legislation establishes security safeguards to ensure greater transparency and access to stored information for students and parents. Further, it includes a provision banning data mining for marketing or advertising purposes and other common sense protections for students' personally identifiable student data. I appreciate Senator Markey's hard work and the substantial feedback we both received from students, parents, and industry stakeholders to develop this meaningful and necessary bipartisan piece of legislation."

Ed tech advocacy group Common Sense Media released a statement supporting the legislation.

"Common Sense Media commends today's bipartisan effort to update the primary federal education privacy law for the digital age," according to Common Sense Media Founder and CEO Jim Steyer. "This legislative proposal is a step forward for fostering student privacy while permitting ed tech innovation. Schools are increasingly using technology in the classroom and in the school office for a variety of educational and administrative functions, and collecting massive amounts of sensitive student data, from test scores and assignments to disciplinary and demographic records. We share the bill's goal of strengthening the law to help ensure that schools and the private ed tech companies they work with protect students' personal information and have appropriate practices for data security, use, destruction, and parental access. Student privacy is a critical and complex topic, and we look forward to working with Senators Markey and Hatch and other stakeholders to ensure that sensitive student data is safeguarded and used appropriately, so educators can harness technology to enrich students' learning without compromising their sensitive personal information."

The complete text of the legislation is available at senate.gov.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).