Greetings from Portsmouth, New Hampshire!
Does anyone else remember the Staples commercial with the dad skipping through the aisles and gleefully dumping all of the school supplies into the shopping cart in preparation for the beginning of the new school year?
That advertisement first aired in 1996 when Yahoo, Netscape and AOL messenger were still in their infancy, and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act was just a gleam in lawmaker's eyes.
There have been several articles this week focused on education privacy, which is not surprising because the new school year is just around the corner, at least in New England.
We have already received notifications to register the kids for school and the forms to fill out, allowing the use of school computers and associated classroom software.
I wrote about this briefly in May, when the first "regular" school year since COVID-19 wrapped up and when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission voted to adopt a policy "regarding increased scrutiny and focus on Children's Online Privacy Protection Act violations involving education technology companies." The vote didn't change the agency's interpretation of COPPA but offered guidance.
The question was once again top of mind after The New York Times reported student-tracking software maker Illuminate Education was targeted by a cyberattack. The hack allegedly affected 1 million students throughout more than a dozen school districts, including New York City and Los Angeles. Some of the data collected included the usual suspects like birthdates and Social Security number but also tardiness and behavioral records.
Some privacy advocates expressed concern that students' civil liberties are being infringed upon as monitoring software can be used to track student progress online, monitor web searches, read messages, etc., during and after school hours.
Earlier this week, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 16 advocacy groups, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Library Association, urged OCR to issue a policy clarifying "the intersection of civil rights laws and student activity monitoring, condemns uses of student activity monitoring that run afoul of students' civil rights and civil liberties."
The call comes at a time when states are implementing discriminatory laws regarding LGBTQI+ students that require schools to identify gender identity or sexual orientation. And at a time, when research shows surveillance may increase this school year despite the majority of schools that are fully back to in-person teaching.
"Such software, which monitors students' most sensitive online activity, culminating in disciplinary actions, "outing," and interactions with law enforcement, is often used in ways that discriminate against protected groups of students," the letter states.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving forward with children's privacy legislation. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation advanced two pieces of children's privacy legislation, the Kids Online Safety Act and the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act, out of committee. These bills won't likely head to the Senate floor until September at the earliest.
We will be sure to keep you updated on all of the above. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend, don't forget to re-register the kids for school and maybe check out the commercial for a bit of nostalgia.
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