House Subcommittees Hold Hearing on Student Data Privacy

July 2014

A House hearing last month, titled How Data Mining Threatens Student Privacy, focused on the risks and responsibilities that arise in acquiring, using, and storing student data and the role that various stakeholders play in protecting the confidentiality of personally identifiable information (PII). The hearing was held jointly by the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education and the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies.

Subcommittee members expressed concerns about the potential exposure of PII through data breaches, despite the perceived benefits of data for better understanding how students learn. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), chair of the cybersecurity subcommittee, noted that there are gaps in the current law that provides for the confidentiality of student PII—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)—which does not account for technological advances such as cloud storage and keystroke-tracking.

In his opening statement, Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA), the ranking member of the education subcommittee, noted that the use of data by researchers could better inform student learning.

“Data from a student’s experience in technology-based learning platforms can be precisely tracked, opening the door to more accurately understanding how students move through a curriculum, and at greater scale, than traditional education research is able to achieve,” said Loebsack.

Witnesses included Joel R. Reidenberg, Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Chair and Professor of Law and Founding Academic Director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University School of Law; Mark MacCarthy, Vice President of Public Policy for the Software and Information Industry Association; Joyce Popp, Chief Information Officer at the Idaho State Department of Education; and Thomas Murray, State and District Digital Learning Policy and Advocacy Director at the Alliance for Excellent Education.