The Hill: Senators offer rival bill on student data privacy

The Senate now has competing bills aimed at restricting education companies from selling or using student data for targeted ads.

Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Thursday introduced the Safe Kids Act. The measure would also require private companies to meet certain data security standards when handling student information.

Federal regulators would be empowered to punish any companies violating the bill’s provisions.
“The perils of privacy invasion and data abuse must be stopped at the classroom door with laws that match advancing technology,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

The Daines-Blumenthal bill is nearly identical to a measure from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), introduced in the upper chamber in May.

The House also has a similar White House-backed bipartisan measure from Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.).

Lawmakers are scrambling to catch up with rapidly changing classrooms.

The use of third-party, cloud-based services to manage student records and improve classroom education is almost ubiquitous in schools nationwide. A 2013 study found that 95 percent of school districts are using these digital products.

The practice has created a largely unregulated market for student data. The vast majority of these outside vendors have no data security requirements in their contracts with schools.

“As classrooms increasingly rely on technology like apps and cloud services to bolster learning, the advances unfortunately pose an urgent, pressing concern — student data can be peddled for revenue,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

The Safe Kids Act intends to shut down that potential revenue stream by prohibiting these outside services from selling certain types of sensitive information. It also would mandate that these companies delete students’ records if requested or within two years of them leaving school.

Parents would also be given the right to access and correct information on their children.

“By placing power back in hands of students, parents and schools we can make progress towards protecting the privacy of our children,” Daines said.

Although educators and digital rights and privacy advocates quickly came out in favor of the bill, the software industry signaled a note of caution.

“Congress … must avoid unnecessarily adding to the patchwork of state laws and federal regulations that currently govern schools and service providers,” said Mark MacCarthy, vice president of public policy at the Software and Information Industry Association. “Doing so risks limiting student access to advanced learning technologies that are essential to modern education.”

The lawmakers insisted their bill provides leeway for education companies to create new products with student data.

According to the text, the measure does not stop companies from using student data for “personalized student learning purposes.”