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The Problem with Oregon's Student Privacy Legislation

As schools become more technology-driven to provide our students with rich digital-learning experiences, protecting our students' privacy is more critical than ever. Over the last several years, Common Sense has done just that, working to ensure students are able to access a trusted and secure online learning environment without exploitation. As legislative action in the states and Congress heats up, Common Sense Kids Action is continuing this fight to safeguard the privacy of all our nation's kids.

This week in Oregon, the House Education Committee is considering student privacy legislation that doesn't go far enough to protect students -- and could get worse. The bill, the Oregon Student Information Protection Act (OSIPA), was strong when it was originally introduced, but after the tech industry lobbied hard, the state Senate added significant loopholes that weaken protections for students and their families. For example, the amended bill would allow third-party service providers to share students' personal information without any privacy requirements for recipients of that information. This means that once student data is disclosed it can be used and shared for any reason with no restrictions at all.

The original Oregon bill, modeled after the landmark legislation passed in California, was designed to prohibit these activities, which is why Common Sense and other children's advocates initially supported it. The amendments, however, are aimed at putting the economic interests of private industry ahead of what's best for kids, and we cannot allow that to happen.

Now we hear that industry reps are seeking further amendments, so K–12 edtech companies would be permitted to use or share students' personal information for commercial, non-school purposes -- if parents "consent." That's a problem, because typically schools and teachers choose the websites, apps, and other online services that students and parents must use. Parents have no real choice but to "consent" when they "click through" the terms of service or check the box "agreeing" to the privacy policy (which they probably don't read or understand). Parents may assume that the school already has fully vetted the service and its privacy and security practices or feel forced to consent to anything so their children can participate and won't be left out. Meanwhile, schools may not always have the resources or savvy to carefully review the products or may agree to certain practices to obtain free or discounted or highly desired products.

Though Kids Action believes every child should have access to technology and the opportunity that access brings, that should not have to mean sacrificing their privacy. Today, we stand with Oregon families and urge their leaders to do what's right and ensure our kids have the protection they deserve. When it comes to online school services, we need clear rules that bar inappropriate commercial, non-educational uses of student data outright, without creating cracks and loopholes. This helps create a trusted online environment where students, families, and educators can focus on learning rather than worry about commercial data mining.

JR Starrett
JR oversees Let's Invest Large in Youth (LILY), a multi state program for Common Sense Kids Action. In this capacity JR works with a team of internal and external stakeholders to identify and introduce state based legislation that will positively impact kids. Prior to joining Common Sense, JR served as a seasoned political operative managing campaign efforts for some of the nation’s most competitive races. JR was recognized as a Rising Star by Campaigns and Elections magazine in 2014. He currently lives in San Francisco with his wife Morgan. JR is a frequent contributor to Campaigns and Elections Magazine, contributing to the Campaign Insider column.