Back to the drawing board on student data privacy bill

The Student Digital Privacy Act, which was expected to be introduced Monday, has been pushed back so Reps. Jared Polis and Luke Messer can tweak the language.

The student data privacy bill expected to be introduced Monday has been delayed to get advocacy groups on board with the language and provisions of the legislation, sources told FedScoop Wednesday.

Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Luke Messer, R-Ind., are going back to the drawing board to rework their Student Digital Privacy Act and make “small technical fixes,” according to a source who is familiar with the proposal. There is no set date for introduction until privacy advocacy groups are ready to back the bill.

The bill is being closely worked on with members of the Obama administration.

A draft of the bill
obtained by Politico banned companies from selling personally identifiable information but added an exception allowing vendors to hawk data if a student or parent consents to it being shared “in furtherance of post-secondary education or employment opportunities.”


Sharing student data with universities would comply with a provision that companies can share information as it relates to educational purposes, but employers should not have access to it, privacy experts said.

“I’m hopeful that there will be some changes — that information wouldn’t be used for employment opportunities, that companies would not be permitted to simply change the terms of a contract or put up a privacy policy,” Khaliah Barnes, director of the Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told FedScoop.

“I think it’s a good sign that Congress is taking more time on this,” she added.

The preliminary version of the bill also bars companies from advertising to students using their info, and it would require edtech companies to delete data within 45 days at a school’s request. The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with enforcement of the law to make sure companies are held accountable for data breaches.

Barnes said she was pleased that the draft included a provision that the federal law would not pre-empt more robust state laws already on the books.


“That was one of the stronger provisions,” she said.

But Mark Schneiderman, senior director of education policy at the Software and Information Industry Association, has said that would further complicate matters.

“The only thing that seems reasonable to us is if [the federal law] pre-empted other state laws that are out there, so we can have common definitions and a common understanding of what is done with student information,”
he told FedScoop in January, when President Barack Obama announced the student data privacy proposal at the FTC’s headquarters.

Amelia Vance, director of education data and technology for the National Association of State Boards of Education, said the basic framework of the bill — strengthening safeguards around student data — sufficiently addresses parents’ and students’ concerns. And, she said, compiling information can also be used for good.

“I think there’s an overreaction that could cause this bill to become too specific,” Vance told FedScoop.


“Data should be used to further students’ success,” she said, adding that politicians shouldn’t be pressured to take out provisions that “could help with that, such as using educational research to figure out the best way to teach an autistic student, or the best way for students to learn reading.”

“While there are privacy and security concerns, the value of that data is still so vital that we don’t want the bill to go overboard,” Vance said.

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