By the Blouin News Technology staff

Privacy in ed-tech gets federal and state focus in the U.S.

by in Personal Tech.

AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Security and privacy issues will continue to occupy the American political scene likely as long as the internet exists, but for now some legislators in the U.S. are focusing on the privacy of student data. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed education and tech industry leaders this week at a School Privacy Zone summit held in Washington, put on by Common Sense Media, to prep privacy advocates for his department’s coming pushes towards federal regulation of student data privacy as schools more heavily adopt virtual technologies to store sensitive data.

VISUAL CONTEXT: U.S. ONLINE COURSE USAGE

Source: Babson Survey Research Group

Source: Babson Survey Research Group

The issue at hand is essentially the integration of high-end technologies — including cloud-based storage — and the education system. As schools digitize their confidential files on students, keep personal information including email addresses of students and other sensitive information in the cloud, concerns rise for the retention of privacy of the data. Such concerns have heightened in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, as the world discovered that the NSA gathers untold amounts of information from the back ends of private technology companies on individual web usage.

Duncan pushed for self-regulation on the parts of technology companies, but emphasized that his department would not leave privacy measures up to private groups alone. Addressing advocates and leaders in ed-tech, he said that the industry must

have appropriate policies for how they handle all that data . . . It’s in your best interest to police yourself before others take in upon themselves . . . We have to do a far better job of helping teachers and administrators understand technology.

Other U.S. states have begun to explore measures to significantly limit certain technology companies’ abilities to gather and harness student data. Maryland has begun to discuss restricting the use of student data by certain cloud computing service vendors. California is considering implementing legislation that would cover ground its lawmakers say is missing from existing federal and state regulations that should prevent companies from using student data for non-educational purposes. How far these states will go to enact policy restricting access to student data could have an effect on how cloud computing companies approach business in these states, since privacy is naturally a big pain point for cloud-based services. And should Duncan’s department get involved on a federal level — which it looks like it will — the implications for cloud-based education technology could shift altogether.