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Student data on school laptops would get privacy protections

By Chris Steller

Students using school-issued laptops, tablets, and other devices could know their data has special protections in state law. 

Sponsored by Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton), HF1507, dubbed the “Student Data Privacy Act,” would amend the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act with a series of provisions restricting access to data on devices schools loan to students.

The House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee held an informational hearing on the bill Thursday. The companion, SF1961, sponsored by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.

Lucero and Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), the committee chair, said work on the bill would continue over the interim with hopes of further advancing the legislation in 2018.

Students’ personal data is in danger from “Big Data,” Lucero said, referring to the collection and mining of data by third-party, for-profit companies such as those who provide devices to school districts for student use.

Ben Feist, legislative director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said the bill would “empower parents and children to decide who they want to share personal information with.” Among the types of data Feist said could potentially be for sale: grades, Social Security numbers, disability status, disciplinary records, whether students received remedial help and qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.

Margaret Westin, general counsel at Osseo Public Schools, has concerns about several aspects of the bill, particularly a provision that would make student data-sharing decisions opt-in rather than opt-out. That could lead to a separate cumbersome paper-only system of recordkeeping for some students, she said.

Lucero said his intent is not to hamper the day-to-day recordkeeping within the school, but what happens to personal information that travels outside the school.

“This is about the data. This is about who is in control,” Lucero said. “Should it be the parents and the students, or should it be the government and the business making those decisions?”

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