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My Turn: State has chance to lead way on children’s privacy

Last modified: 4/11/2015 11:35:02 PM
A bill making its way through the state Legislature is reinforcing New Hampshire’s reputation as a state that goes out of its way to protect individual liberty, and will give voice to the fight for children, who are so often ignored by our political process.

House Bill 520 establishes guidelines for the protection of student online personal information, in the face of powerful corporate interests that are working to undermine our children’s most sensitive, personal and private information.

Schools are increasingly integrating laptops and tablets in the classroom and using cloud-computing services to enrich student education and facilitate school operations. These online services, websites, mobile apps and digital platforms offer exciting new opportunities for our students, and are an essential part of preparing the next generation of graduates for the global, 21st-century economy.

But these new technologies also collect a wealth of personal student data – without clear rules for using and protecting the information. As we incorporate these tools into our classrooms, we need a set of commonsense rules in place to ensure that our children’s privacy and safety is being protected along the way.

To realize the potential of educational technology, we need a trusted online environment where educators can harness technology and students can learn and explore without fear that their personal information will be exploited for commercial purposes or fall into the wrong hands.

Many vendor contracts, terms of service, privacy policies and company practices fail to protect student data. HB 520 provides strong protections to safeguard and secure student data, and keep students and families safe from targeted ads and commercial profiling, much like the Student Online Privacy Information Protection Act, which Common Sense has championed throughout the country.

States around the country have realized we cannot wait for Washington to act. Existing federal and state laws haven’t kept pace with education technology and leave large gaps in protecting students’ information.

Luckily, New Hampshire leaders are taking action.

HB 520, sponsored by Glenn Cordelli, a Tuftonboro Republican, takes the commonsense stand that students’ personal information should remain private, and not be subject to the whims of some companies eager to exploit the next generation of consumers.

Parents, teachers and advocates for children’s rights know that kids deserve much more than that. They deserve the right to be able to take advantage of exciting new educational opportunities without having to sacrifice their privacy.

Many in Concord agree, and we are encouraged that New Hampshire sits poised to pass some of the toughest protections of student privacy in the nation.

Online services collect massive amounts of sensitive student data, including academic performance, health records, behavior and disciplinary actions, online activity and keystrokes, eligibility for free or reduced price meals, school lunch selections, family demographics and financial status, and geolocation.

Some online services have collected and analyzed personal details about students without clear limits on use of the student data for educational purposes. Others have failed to adequately secure students’ personal information from potential misuse.

Students and their families have the right to ensure this information remains private, and is not used in marketing or other profiling efforts of companies eager to package, manipulate and resell consumer data.

Technology is a vital part of the 21st-century classroom. HB 520 requires that K-12 online sites, services and apps protect students’ personal information from misuse. It prohibits students’ personal information or online activity from being used to target advertising to students or families. Education technology providers must adopt data security procedures appropriate to protect the information they collect. HB 520 also allows ed tech providers to innovate and improve educational products using de-identified and aggregated student information, ultimately benefiting our students.

The bill has already passed the House with broad, bipartisan support and will be reviewed by the Senate in the coming weeks. The vote will be a test for the fundamental idea that children are entitled to basic privacy protections that their parents, and any other citizen, would expect our government to provide. The Senate ought to pass the bill with the same bipartisan support we saw in the House vote last month.

(James P. Steyer is the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media.)


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