Two bills specifically designed to protect private student information were unveiled in the U.S. Senate last week.  The first was released on May 13 by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and the second was introduced the following day by Senator David Vitter (R-La.). These initiatives continue recent efforts by Congress to protect student data in particular.

Senators Hatch and Markey reintroduced the Protecting Student Privacy Act, which amends the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (“FERPA”) to ensure greater protection of student data.  Among other provisions, the legislation would (i) require that “data security safeguards be put in place to protect sensitive student data that is held by private companies,” (ii) prohibit “the use of students’ personally identifiable information to advertise or market a product or service,” (iii) provide “parents with the right to access the personal information about their children—and amend that information if it is incorrect—that is held by private companies,” and (iv) make “transparent the names of all outside parties that have access to student information,” according to the press release for the legislation. 

Upon reintroduction of the bill, Senator Markey stated that “data analysis holds promise for increasing student achievement, but it also holds peril from a privacy perspective.  There are threats to students when their personal information is in the hands of private companies, and we need to make sure parents have the tools to protect their children. A child’s educational record should not be sold as a product on the open market.”  The bill was first introduced last year.

On May 14, Senator Vitter released his own student data privacy bill, the Student Privacy Protection Act.  According to Senator Vitter’s (R-Louisiana) press release, the legislation would (i) “[r]einstate protections originally outlined under [FERPA] by clarifying who can access student data and what information is accessible,” (ii) “[r]equire educational agencies to gain prior consent from students or parents and implement measures to ensure records remain private,” and (iii)hold liable through monetary fines “[a]ny educational agency, school, or third party that fails to get consent.”  The bill would also “[e]xtend FERPA’s protections to ensure records of homeschooled students are treated equally” and “[p]rohibit educational agencies, schools, and the Secretary of Education from including personally identifiable information obtained from federal or state agencies through data matches in student data.” 

In support of his bill, Senator Vitter stated that “parents are right to feel betrayed when schools collect and release information about their kids.  This is real, sensitive information—and it doesn’t belong to some bureaucrat in Washington D.C.  We need to make sure that parents and students have complete control over their own information.”

The bills unveiled in the Senate last week join other efforts in Congress to protect student data, including the bipartisan Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 introduced in the House of Representatives on April 29 by Representatives Luke Messer (R-Ind.) and Jared Polis (D-Col.).  According to the bill’s press release, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act would prohibit operators that provide online and similar services “from targeting advertising to a student, selling a student’s information to a third party, and creating a personal profile of a student for a non-school-related purpose.”  The bill additionally would “mandate that operators disclose publicly and directly to schools the types of information being collected and how that information will be used” and would require operators to “establish and maintain strong security procedures to prevent data breaches.”  Further, in “the event of a data breach, operators must notify the [Federal Trade Commission] and all potential victims of the breach in compliance with existing law.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is also expected to release a separate student data privacy bill.