Department of Education Issues New Guidance on Student Privacy

Posted By Abby Perkins on April 17, 2015 at 2:31 pm
Department of Education Issues New Guidance on Student Privacy

Digital learning is on the rise, in classrooms from elementary school to college. And while it creates undeniable opportunities and benefits, it also produces new security risks for students. In an effort to help protect the privacy of students and their parents, the Department of Education recently released new guidelines that are aimed at helping educators identify acceptable terms of service from outside educational services. The main purpose of these guidelines is to create an easy-to-understand framework for educators to use when deciding whether third-party services are secure to use in the classroom.

Target provisions

Examples of the services that these guidelines target include computer software, apps for mobile devices and tablets, and web-based tools. The document provided by the Department of Education provides specific examples of language that educators should look for based on seven primary categories:

  1. Definition of data: Educators should look for language that specifies data as including all Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
  2. Data de-identification: This process involves removing any information that could potentially identify an individual. The remaining information can be used as long as no attempt to identify the original individual is made.
  3. Marketing and advertising: Students and parents should be free from any attempts at advertising or marketing.
  4. Modification of terms: The provider should not be able to change the terms of the agreement without notifying the school and obtaining consent first.
  5. Data collection: Educators should look for specific language that does not allow the provider to collect any information outside of what is necessary to fulfill its duties.
  6. Data use: Similar to data collection, any information must be used for only the purposes outlined in the agreement.
  7. Data mining: Data mining refers to the collection of information that is not directly provided by the user. Data mining should be limited to only those purposes that are agreed upon and never for advertising or marketing.

Using technology with confidence

During a 2014 summit of education leaders and privacy advocates, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stressed that digital learning tools provide extraordinary learning opportunities, as well as technology that frees up teachers’ time for high-value instructional activities. Secretary Duncan also made it clear that protecting the privacy and security of students and parents must be a priority. Schools and educators cannot wait for companies to police themselves, or for the establishment of stricter regulations. The new guidelines are meant to help schools and educators embrace technology with greater knowledge and confidence.

No regulations

The only potential drawback of these new guidelines? They contain no actual regulations. Schools and educators are urged to follow them, but the framework is ultimately voluntary. There are, however, a number of bills that are aimed at introducing firmer legislation, including a 2014 federal bill introduced by Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey. Senator Markey’s bill would make mandatory many of the provisions suggested by the Department of Education’s new guidelines.

Abby Perkins
Email | Twitter | LinkedIn Abby Perkins attended Davidson College, where she graduated with a B.A. and Honors in English and wrote for The Davidsonian newspaper. Abby's work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance and Entrepreneur. As Managing Editor, Abby is a regular contributor to the GoodCall newsroom, covering education and financial aid.

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