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Now Is the Time for National Legislation to Protect Student Privacy

President Obama urges passage of Student Data Privacy Act to prevent tech companies from misusing schoolkids' personal data.

Earlier this week, President Obama used his bully pulpit to elevate the issue of student data privacy to the national level. I was fortunate to be in attendance at the event, and as the father of four kids, I applaud this effort. The president's proposed legislation, the Student Digital Privacy Act, will ensure that student and family data collected in schools is used solely for educational purposes. Education technology providers would be prohibited from selling student data to third parties for purposes unrelated to the educational mission and from engaging in targeted advertising to students based on data collected in school. It's important to note that companies would be allowed to use anonymous data for research and development efforts designed to improve their educational products.


Why is this an issue of importance to parents and kids?  Education technology providers collect massive amounts of sensitive data about students -- including contact information, performance records, online activity, health information, behavior and disciplinary records, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch -- even cafeteria selections and whether students ride the bus to school.  As we have seen with recent high-profile data leaks (Target, Home Depot, and Sony), personal information is at great risk in this day and age. 


So why can't we leave it up to educational technology companies to do the right thing?  We have seen that the industry doesn't police itself very well. Some online services have collected and analyzed personal details about students without clear limits on use of the student data for educational purposes. Others have failed to adequately secure and encrypt students' personal information from potential misuse. Federal legislation would give the industry, educators, and parents a consistent standard along with the safeguards that families deserve.


Students shouldn't have to surrender their right to privacy and security at the schoolhouse door. We need clear rules of the road to ensure that school children's information is not exploited for commercial purposes and stays out of the wrong hands. It should be obvious from all perspectives that this is a nonpartisan issue that deserves to be quickly addressed by Congress for the benefit of all American families.


For more information about what's at stake and what you can do, visit our site to learn more about the School Privacy Zone

Jim Steyer
Jim is Common Sense Media's CEO and founder -- read all about him here.