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Whose privacy matters most?

Kacy Zurkus | June 2, 2015
Regulations help to protect the privacy of student data by ensuring its proper use.

No one wants their private information falling into the wrong hands, but this is especially true of the younger generation, as they lack the resources to address such a compromise directly, and parents often don't think to monitor their child's personal records or usage.

Yet, student information is out there, though, which means, personally identifiable information (PII) about children is as much in jeopardy of being compromised as the data collected around any other group.

Despite the fact that all data is at risk, legislation safeguards the collection, storing, and sharing of student data more than any other public sector; however, they need strict regulations to protect everyone's private information, not just that of students.

According to FierceGovernmentIT, senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) reintroduced the Protecting Student Privacy Act which will, if passed, set forth requirements for collecting student data, but what are the risks involved? Are they different from or greater than the risks to customer data?

From the doctor's office to the online shopping expedition, people provide a lot of detailed information about their health, personal interests, and account numbers. It's a matter of convenience, and organizations know that employees and consumers are more often willing to compromise their privacy in exchange for efficiency or convenience.

According to Bruce Schneier, CTO at Resilient Systems, there are no particular risks to collecting student data. "We are just hyper-sensitive about threats against our children," Schneier said. Sure, the school's network is at risk just as any other network is. "Children's data is on it," he said "but there is no super special school network that is more at risk." For any breach or any network, "the risk is that your data will be used against you," Schneier said.

To a certain extent, Brenda Leong, senior counsel and director of operations at Future of Privacy agreed. "All data is data, and many of the same concerns exist for all of it. There are laws about student data because it has received enough attention, but there is no general legislation about privacy. It's always sector specific," Leong said. What is special about the collection of student data as opposed to any other information is that students don't have a choice in attending school.

"The information is collected mandatorily by the school system which puts a burden of responsibility to protect that information and ensure that it is only used for educational purposes," Leong said. The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) demands that schools, researchers, analysts, and third party vendors do just that in part because so much information about students and their families is stored as part of a student's educational record.


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