Protect Student Privacy; Lawmakers In Washington Have a Plan

Common Sense is helping Congress consider important new bi-partisan legislation to make sure your students' personal information is private, secure, and off limits to commercial marketers. By Kids Action Team
Protect Student Privacy; Lawmakers In Washington Have a Plan

With all the concern lately about online privacy and hacking, we are pleased to see that Congress is working on a bipartisan plan to keep our students' personal information private, secure, and protected from unwanted marketing and commercial profiling. Common Sense has played a big role in this issue for years.

At Common Sense we have long recognized that high-quality educational technology, used wisely and with highly effective teachers, has the potential to enhance and inspire learning for any child, anywhere. To realize this potential, we need a trusted online learning environment, so parents, teachers, and students can have confidence that technology will improve their teaching and education, not undermine their privacy. Getting this right is important to supporting families and enabling research and innovation that will lead to better digital-learning tools and improved education outcomes for our students.

A bipartisan bill introduced today in the House of Representatives would safeguard students' privacy and security and support teachers and parents. Many of us don't realize just how much sensitive personal information about today's generation of students is collected during the course of their K–12 years -- and what happens to that information as our kids grow up in today's vast digital age.

Online platforms, mobile apps, and cloud-computing services used in schools collect massive amounts of personal information, including students' grades and academic performance records, behavior and discipline records, attendance, contact information, and more -- highly sensitive information that must be kept safe and secure. But in most states today there are few rules about how private companies handle and share students' personal data.

That's why we worked in California last year to pass a landmark state law that sets forth clear rules of the road for edtech providers, so kids and educators can use websites and apps to enrich their educations without fear that their information will be exploited for commercial purposes or fall into the wrong hands. And we're working to get other states to follow California's lead.

The bill introduced today, by Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican from Indiana, and Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, builds on these principles at the federal level. Their legislation sets forth clear and enforceable rules for K–12 websites, online services, and apps, restricting their ability to target ads to students and their families, mine their data for noneducational purposes, sell students' information, or disclose it to third parties (except as provided).

The measure also requires edtech companies to adopt appropriate data security for student information -- and to delete it when it's no longer needed for educational purposes. Plus, the bill empowers parents to access and correct their children's information and to ensure that it's used solely to advance their educations.

We applaud Reps. Messer and Polis for listening to experts in this field -- such as Common Sense, other privacy and education advocates, and responsible industry actors -- to craft a strong bill. Passage of this measure would help foster a trusted online learning environment, so teachers and students can use state-of-the-art education technology to learn and thrive. Together, we can show the nation that it's possible to protect student privacy and encourage innovation, so our kids can take advantage of the digital classroom and be fully prepared to compete and succeed in the 21st-century economy.

That's a win-win for everyone and, in our view, plain common sense.

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