It seems that student privacy is trendy right now—at least among elected officials. Congressional aides are scrambling to write bills that one-up each other in showcasing how tough they are on protecting youth. We’ve got Congressmen Polis and Messer (with Senator Blumenthal expected to propose a similar bill in the Senate). Kline and Scott have a discussion draft of their bill out while Markey and Hatch have reintroduced the bill they introduced a year ago. And then there’s Senator Vitter’s proposed bill. And let’s not even talk about the myriad of state-level legislation.
Most of these bills are responding in some way or another to a 1974 piece of legislation called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which restricted what schools could and could not do with student data.
Needless to say, lawmakers in 1974 weren’t imagining the world of technology that we live with today. On top of that, legislative and bureaucratic dynamics have made it difficult for the Department of Education to address failures at the school level without going nuclear and just defunding a school outright. Many schools lack security measures (because they lack technical sophistication), and they’re entering into all sorts of contracts with vendors that give advocates heartburn.