The Landscape of Student Digital Privacy Legislation

Legislators are introducing more bills this year to govern and prohibit data practices in the education technology community.

by / March 10, 2015 0
Minnesota is considering legislation that would create digital data backpacks for students. Pixabay CCO Public Domain

This year, student data privacy is even more popular in legislatures across the country.

As of March 6, just over three-quarters of states had introduced 138 bills dealing with student data privacy — a 25 percent increase over last year's bill count. Many of these bills build on the work that states already did in 2014, with legislators looking at both the governance and prohibition side of the issue.

"The scope and number of bills really confirms how much of an ongoing conversation this is for states and how addressing privacy is something they'll be thinking about in different ways over the long term," said Rachel Anderson, a senior associate for policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign who crunched the legislative numbers.   

Ten states modeled their 2015 legislation off of California's strong data privacy law that passed last fall. The Student Online Personal Information Protection Act directly governs technology service providers instead of dealing with districts and states that they serve.

Another nine states introduced bills that have similar language, but are based on Microsoft wording that has its roots in the Student Privacy Pledge, which more than 100 education service providers signed in October. In fact, Oregon has both bases covered, with one bill influenced by California's language and the other taking a cue from Microsoft.

Several state bills this year have the potential to make a big splash and advance far into their legislative houses.

Virginia sent a strong governance bill, HB 2350, to Gov. Terry McAuliffe this month for his consideration. Introduced by Terry L. Austin, the bill would require the state's Education Department to develop a model security plan for school divisions and hire a chief data security officer to help schools with their security plans. The governor has until March 29 to take action on the bill.

In Minnesota, SF 990 builds off a similar approach that Utah took a few years ago with a student data backpack that governs both parents' and schools' access to data. The basic idea is that students' longitudinal data travels with them, and parents can access it, as well as choose whether to authorize access to service providers. Introduced by Sen. Charles W. Wiger, the bill is still making its way through committees.

"The main message for this year is that states continue to really be engaged in this work and [are] thinking about how we can use data to support students while also safeguarding it," Anderson said.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.