Obama finds bipartisan backing for student data privacy pitch

The president has found bipartisan support for his student data privacy proposal that he unveiled last month.

Weeks after proposing stronger protections around student data, President Barack Obama has found bipartisan support to push through legislation, which is being drafted by Reps. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Colo.

Aides for both congressmen told FedScoop the bill will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks, and it basically would codify the student data privacy pledge signed by dozens of software and education technology companies.

The legislation would detail “what school operators can and cannot do in providing services to schools,” said Jake Vreeburg, legislative director for Messer. “It establishes a floor for student data privacy, but it doesn’t prohibit states from providing additional protections.”

Vreeburg added that the bill would give the Federal Trade Commission authority over enforcing certain provisions of the legislation.


Student data mining has been a concern of student advocates, privacy experts and parents who worry that companies schools contract with may be able to sell kids’ data to third-party vendors for targeted advertising.

White House officials said the hot-button issue needs to be addressed rapidly on the national level — though some states also have their own legislation in place.

“I think there’s much more pressure now to move legislation and we’re certainly going to use all of the resources we have, including the president’s time, to ensure that the Congress takes this up,” Obama adviser John Podesta told Reuters, which first reported the story.

Messer, the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, and Polis, an Internet entrepreneur who founded a network of charter schools in Colorado, led the corporate pledge that was most recently signed by Google and Khan Academy.

“As a parent, I am keenly aware of, and share, many of the concerns that parents have expressed about data from these programs being used inappropriately,” Polis said in a statement to FedScoop. “Many corporations have taken an encouraging first step by signing the pledge to prevent misuse of this data, but legislation is the best way to address parental concerns, while encouraging new developments in individualized learning.”


During his announcement on new cybersecurity proposals last month, Obama made student data privacy a key priority for his administration.

“We need a structure that ensures that information is not being gathered without us as parents or the kids knowing it,” Obama had said at the FTC headquarters, which oversees consumer protection efforts.

Paige Kowalski, vice president for policy and advocacy at the Data Quality Campaign, said the bipartisan effort is a positive step forward.

“It’s an important conversation to have. There is such a rush to do this, but it’s so important to do it right,” she said. “We have to make sure we’re not limiting innovation and kids’ ability to engage with technology.”

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