New Senate bill would limit data-gathering on schoolchildren

A new Senate bill aims to clamp down on how advertisers can target schoolchildren.

The SAFE KIDS Act (“Safeguarding American Families from Exposure by Keeping Information and Data Secure Act”), cosponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to regulate how educational software makers collect and use student data.

Among the bright-line rules in the bill is a prohibition on such companies advertising directly to students through their services. They are only allowed to collect information for the purposes of running their software. They also cannot sell the information they gather to third-party data brokers.

The bill also requires these educational software companies to “establish, implement, and maintain reasonable security procedures appropriate to the nature of covered information to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity” of that data.

These companies must also delete student data that is not being held for educational purposes within 45 days of a parent, school, or government agency requesting the deletion. The data must also be deleted within “a reasonable time” (defined as less than two years) after the information is no longer used for educational purposes.

In a statement, Daines and Blumenthal touted the support their bill has received from the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s largest teacher’s union; Microsoft, one of the largest corporate partners of K-12 school systems; and the Center for Democracy & Technology, a longtime civil-liberties and privacy group.

“Securing students’ digital information is critical to ensuring that our kids’ privacy is protected,” Daines said in the statement. “By placing power back in hands of students, parents and schools we can make progress towards protecting the privacy of our children.”

While hacks, data breaches, and surveillance leaks have raised the profile of privacy debates, the discussion has largely ignored the tremendous power that private companies wield with consumers’ implicit or explicit permission, vacuuming up personal data and selling it to advertisers to fund free services that most Americans take for granted.

In the realm of student data, where many of the “consumers” are minors using services that their schools chose for them, privacy is a much trickier subject. The U.S. Department of Education has tried to clarify the rules surrounding the use of student records by establishing the Privacy Technical Assistance Center. But privacy advocates say that the FTC needs new authority to punish educational software companies who misuse the data they gather.

In May, the White House threw its support behind a similar bill introduced in the House by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.). Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, said the administration “looked forward to working with both chambers in the months ahead to advance legislation that provides meaningful privacy protections and helps spur more innovation in the way we educate.”

Photo via USAG- Humphreys/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.