Louisiana Lawmakers Consider Student Privacy Bill

Published April 18, 2014

A bill making its way through the Louisiana legislature would revamp how schools and the state collect student data.

Passed by the House and awaiting a vote in the Senate Education Committee, House Bill 1076 would forbid schools from collecting information such as students’ religious beliefs, political affiliation, incriminating behavior, and biometric information such as fingerprints. It also forbids schools from sharing individual student information with any entity unless that is required under state or federal law. It would allow districts to share aggregate, anonymous data, and would allow parents or students of legal age to choose to share any information they want.

“The right to privacy is fundamental and protected under our Constitution,” said Rep. John Schroder (R-St. Tammany Parish), the bill’s sponsor. “I shouldn’t even have to write this bill.… Now we’re trying to catch up with technology. With the hit of a button, companies across the country, across the world for that matter, have access to private information.”

When parents began looking into the nation’s new math and English tests under Common Core, data privacy became a huge issue, said Lee Barrios, a founder of the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education.

“Parents want the authority to opt out,” Barrios said. “The claim that state or federal government entities require certain individual student data for funding specific programs such as IDEA for special needs children or services for impoverished children presents a problem that could be solved by reporting processes that would require local school districts to verify the need for that funding without disaggregating data or providing student identifiers of any kind.”

Identity Theft, Marketing Concerns
In 2009, Louisiana received a federal grant, partly to develop a student data system that uses anonymous ID numbers for students. Four years later, that system is still undeveloped. HB 1076 also mandates a system that uses anonymous ID numbers. In testimony on the bill, state Superintendent John White said it would require spending even more money to protect student data.

“Unique student identifiers don’t solve the larger problem of the purpose of data-mining and sharing and its importance to the Common Core Initiative,” Barrios said. “The avowed purpose of student data is to link individual student needs with solutions and resources provided by private companies. A unique student identifier when coupled with sometimes as little as two or three other pieces of student data allows these companies to identify students and market their products accordingly.”

Higher-education institutions have also resisted the bill because they often use Social Security numbers to track students.

Social Security numbers “are linked to so many other very sensitive datasets that [using them] can really increase the risk of identity theft,” said Khalia Barnes, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “Using alternative numbers can be good as long as those numbers aren’t linked to all other types of student information.”

Student Data Security
EPIC recently proposed a student privacy bill of rights. More data protections are necessary because many federal and state student privacy laws do not apply to private companies, EPIC says, and the largest federal student privacy law known as, FERPA, was recently watered down through regulations.

“Schools can do a better job of engaging students and parents” about student data privacy, Barnes said.

Limiting the amount of data schools retain, respecting context, and gathering information for one purpose only, are keys to security, Barnes said.

“As adults we have the ability to approve someone using our information, but children rely on their parents,” Schroder said. 

Parents’ Awareness Critical
The bill originally forbade schools and education agencies from releasing student information publicly, but was revamped to allow schools to use student information in yearbooks, student IDs, and other common products. 

“The intent of the bill is to keep personally identifiable data within the school districts so that they can function and continue necessary student services.” Schroder said.

Although new education technology offers many opportunities, parents and authorities should be aware of its dangers and protect kids from them, Barnes said.

“Schools should be accountable to enforcement authorities,” Barnes said. “Schools and private companies who can’t protect it shouldn’t collect it.”


Image courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.