Sens. Introduce Educational Info Protection Bill

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have introduced a bill that would protect digital student records. Educational software and digital content is a $7.9 billion market, they point out.

"With the business of storing and sifting through records of students growing as fast as students are, Congress must act to ensure that safeguards are in place for data that is shared with outside companies," said Markey, who has been a leading  voice for protecting data privacy online, particularly where kids are concerned.

The bill, the Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2014, would require security safeguards for sensitive student data held by private companies; prohibit the use of student PII (personally identifiable information" to advertiser any product or service; give parents the right to access their children's PII in the hands of private companies and change it if it is wrong; require access to the name of all outside parties with student PII; require minimization of PII transferred from schools to private companies, and ensures those companies cannot maintain detailed databases in perpetuity.

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), which represents those third parties, says the legislation means well but is redundant, unworkable in some cases, and unnecessary.

"The current framework of robust federal regulations, industry best practices and binding contracts provides strong student privacy protections," said Mark MacCarthy, VP of public policy for SIIA.  With these three layers of protection, we can give students access to revolutionary learning technology while ensuring that their information is used only for educational purposes. New federal student privacy legislation is not needed at this time. 

“The Markey-Hatch legislation is well-intended, but it contains provisions, such as a prohibition against the use of student information for targeted advertising, that already exist in current law and regulation. Other provisions, such as those related to data destruction, might not be workable in practice.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.