Press Releases

Trahan Releases Draft Student Privacy Legislation, Invites Stakeholder Input

LOWELL, MA – Today, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, released draft legislation that prioritizes student privacy by placing limits on how data collected through commercial educational software can be used. To ensure that students’, parents’, and educators’ experiences are reflected, Trahan is inviting stakeholders to provide their input before filing an updated version of the legislation later this year.

“After a year and a half of overcoming remote learning challenges, the last thing students, parents, and educators need to worry about is education technology companies using data harvesting techniques buried deep in jargony terms of service agreements to predict educational outcomes and target advertisements,” said Congresswoman Trahan. “We know the bad track record in the ad targeting marketplace right now, and we have an obligation to protect our children from falling victim to those same abuses. This legislation, along with the input from key stakeholders over the coming weeks and months, will establish long overdue guardrails that protect students’ privacy while also leaving room for innovation and data-driven evaluation.”

Every click or page visited online by consumers is tracked, harvested, and amassed into comprehensive profiles by companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon for the purpose of selling targeted advertisements. Similar profiles are being collected about students through commercial educational software – often for the purposes of targeting advertisements or predicting college majors, post-graduate professions, and college success rates. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a massive increase in the use of these types of software, and while their use can offer different ways for students to continue their education, some systems may threaten civil and data rights.

Given the widespread abuse of consumer data in the surveillance advertising market to date, the risks of doing nothing to protect young students simply looking to further their education despite pandemic-induced challenges require urgent and comprehensive action. Trahan’s draft legislation seeks to fulfill Congress’ obligation to modernize outdated laws that partially govern education technology and finally protect student data while also bringing transparency to the use of technology in elementary and secondary education.

The draft bill released today pulls from state laws like California’s Student Online Personal Information Protection Act and limits the use of student data for targeted advertising, the creation of advertising profiles, and commercial sale. Additionally, the draft legislation mandates that education technology providers with high-risk automated decision systems complete two technology impact assessments – one for public consumption and one for regulatory bodies and school administrators.

As Trahan puts pen to paper drafting the final version of the legislation, she’s inviting parents, educators, and students to share their experiences with education technology and input on the draft. Comments will be accepted starting today through October 31st.

Those interested in providing their input on the legislation can do so confidentially by clicking HERE. A section-by-section summary of the draft legislation can be accessed by clicking HERE. The draft text can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Trahan’s draft bill, as well as the process by which she’s including the public in its drafting, has been praised by key outside groups, including Common Sense, Fairplay, and 5Rights.

"After more than a year of distance and increased digital learning on ed tech services of all stripes, we need federal student privacy protections more than ever. Common Sense welcomes Rep. Trahan's attention to this issue and her commitment to protecting the privacy and security of student data while permitting innovation in education and technology,” said Ariel Fox, Senior Counsel for Global Policy at Common Sense. “Common Sense believes that the school zone--whether in-person or online--should be a privacy zone, and that student’s personal information should be used to enrich students' education, not companies' profits. We look forward to continuing these discussions, so we can create a world where students can use state-of-the-art online services to learn and thrive, without fear that their personal information will be exploited or come back to haunt them." 

“More than ever, we need stronger privacy regulations to curb exploitative EdTech practices and protect student's sensitive data,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “We are grateful to Representative Trahan, for leading a critical conversation about what effective federal legislation should look like.”

“As education technology becomes a mainstay in schools, we need trusted and effective data governance to protect children’s privacy. Rep. Trahan’s bill is a vital and necessary step to introduce safeguards for student’s personal data and protect their fundamental rights,” said Baroness Beeban Kidron, OBE, the Founder and Chair of 5Rights. “Curbing the appetites of data-hungry commercial edtech providers will allow children to enjoy the huge benefits that education technology offers, without sacrificing their right to privacy. 5Rights commends Rep. Trahan for her commitment to children and for being among those lawmakers around the globe who are putting children's privacy and safety online at the forefront of the political agenda.”

Trahan plans to introduce an updated version of the legislation shortly after the public comment period closes.