This blog post was originally published on WCET’s blog. Check out the excerpt below, or click here to read the full post on Congress’s proposed changes to student data and privacy regulations.

Congress Proposes Changes to Student Data Usage and Privacy Regulations

We live in a society awash in a sea of data. The collection and use of millions upon millions of data points allows for an unprecedented level of personalization when we log into service providers like Amazon, Netflix or iTunes.  Our data, the record of the most personal and private parts of our lives, fuel the algorithms that order our lives.

But, there is a darker side to the ubiquitous presence of our personal data.

We decry the ability of the National Security Agency to access phone records. Librarians staunchly advocate the right of patrons to keep borrowing histories private.  We monitor our credit after massive data breaches stretching from national consumer outlets to the federal government. But we reserve our most critical and contentious conversations around data and privacy for discussions of student data usage and privacy.

Given the antiquated nature of federal privacy legislation, the highly charged contemporary conversations about data privacy, and the more than 180 pieces of legislation filed in 47 state legislatures, it should come as no surprise that there are no less than eleven bills and amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) before Congress that would reimagine student data and privacy for the 21st century.


Congress has been debating student privacy since President Ford signed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) into law in 1974. Focused primarily on regulating schools and local and state educational agencies, the goal of FERPA is to provide parents with access to their child’s educational records, provide them with the ability to amend those records, and ensure that they control the disclosure of those records. There are, however, some consideration made for researchers—personally identifiable information (PII) can be disclosed to third parties for the purpose of educational research without explicit parental consent.

The greatest challenge that FERPA has faced is that despite the numerous amendments by Congress and changes in regulations by the Department of Education, the fact still remains that FERPA was written at a time when student records were more likely to be paper files kept in a locked file cabinet or vault than digital records that can be disseminated at the press of a button or illegally accessed by some nefarious hacker.

What’s Being Proposed to Update FERPA?

There are three proposed bills pending that would either amend or completely re-write FERPA:

  • HR 3157, The Student Privacy Protection Act; Todd Rokita (R), Marcia Fudge (D), John Kline (R), and Robert C. Scott (D)
  • S 1322, Protecting Student Privacy Act; Edward Markey (D), Orrin Hatch (R), and Mark Steven Kirk (R)
  • S 1341, Student Privacy Protection Act; David Vitter (R)

All of these pieces of proposed legislation share a common desire to bring FERPA into the 21st century and update it for new and emerging technologies while bolstering parental rights, but two pieces of legislation have garnered the most attention—HR 3157 and S 1341.

Click here to keep reading.

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