Why student data privacy is front and center on our legislative agenda

Schools have changed greatly over the past decade with the use of technology in and out of the classroom, and massive amounts of data are being collected on our children that parents have no control over at the present time. Students are being tracked, traced, monitored, and scored now more than ever before.

Update: The data privacy bill is HB3606 in the House and SB2089 in the Senate. You can read our fact sheet about the bill here. Please call your state rep and state senator to ask them to support this important legislation by signing on as a sponsor and voting yes! 

As the FBI’s September PSA stated, “The widespread collection of sensitive information by ed tech could present unique exploitation opportunities for criminals. Malicious use of this sensitive data could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identify theft, or other means of targeting children.”

In 2018 venture capital investments in ed tech reached $1.45 billion, and ed tech is projected to be a $250 billion global industry by 2020. Companies stand to profit greatly by commercializing student data—a business so new that it has few adequate laws and safeguards in place. In order to maintain this freedom to pursue profits, ed tech companies have put huge dollars into lobbying against regulations on their ability to mine and sell data. Data brokers in the US sell extensive amounts of highly sensitive data about children to marketers and college admissions offices; tracing the origin of this data is extremely difficult.

Equally tricky is knowing the impact this data collection and sharing have—are our children’s chances for college admissions helped or hurt by data that we’ve never seen or knew existed? Are CPS school resource officers sharing student disciplinary info with controversial Chicago Police Department databases? Existing student privacy laws are inadequate.

Raise Your Hand Action has drafted a comprehensive bill sponsored by Representative Rob Martwick and Senator Omar Aquino, that would provide much-needed student data privacy protections for the children of Illinois, and we need your help when the bill is introduced later this week in lining up co-sponsors to support this legislation!  In 2017, the General Assembly passed the Student Online Privacy Protection Act (SOPPA). Parents weren’t at the table when this bill was negotiated, and SOPPA was written to protect the tech industry's interests, not our children's.

We believe parents have a right to know and a right to control how their child’s personal data is being used by schools and companies. We are very concerned about the ways in which digital footprints are being created for our children—and what the long term implications of those footprints are. We’ve already seen the ways in which data collection can be exploited commercially, create barriers to access or worse, including the following:

  • Colleges are tracking which students open their emails and how fast they read/respond and using this in admissions criteria!  (Wall Street Journal Colleges Mine Data on Their Applicants, Jan. 2019)

There are also major issues surrounding keeping all this data secure and the policies and procedures districts have for when breaches occur. Remember the time an ex-CPS employee was caught stealing data of 80,000 employeesAnd the time a CPS employee handed over private student data to Noble network of charter schools? Or the times CPS breached data including selective enrollment apps, medical conditions and IEP info and home address and disability status of thousands of students?

The average cost of an education data breach has been estimated at $245 per exposed record; these breaches harm students’ privacy and have an impact on our under-resourced public school budgets.

Please talk to your state rep and state senator about HB3606 in the House and SB2089 in the Senate. Ask them to support this important legislation.  We’ll need all hands on deck to get this one passed with the guaranteed pushback from the ed tech lobby who want full access to our children's data. The information that’s being collected on our children will have lasting impact into the future, and it’s time for parents to gain some control of what’s happening with this data.  

[Image used via Creative Commons]