When privacy becomes too private
Is it possible that in our effort to protect our kid’s privacy we make it too private? Let me put it this way, what happens when we make privacy laws so restrictive that someone can go to jail for using their information? Well, it has happened in Louisiana and the law basically states that if you put two pieces of PII (personally identifiable information) where you can identify a student you are in violation of the statute and can get up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine. How will this impact the educational resources available to our children?
Recently, a couple of articles like this one and this one got me thinking about the unintended consequences of restrictive privacy laws. Because, really, when we talk about student data privacy our first reaction is to advocate for fines and penalties that would deter anyone from abusing student information. However, what happens when a teacher inadvertently shares information for the honor roll, for example. Could that teacher go to jail? Or what about yearbooks? More importantly, what if student information can’t be shared and a college scholarship deserving student can’t get the coveted scholarship because he/she can’t be identified? The key is balance. Balance when we talk about privacy. Balance when we draft legislation to protect student information. Should student information be freely shared? No, absolutely not. But should teachers and schools be allowed to conduct school business and help students based on the information they have? Yes, absolutely.
We still have a long way to go in finding the right balance when drafting legislation to protect student privacy. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to the question of how restrictive, or not, privacy laws ought to be when it comes to students. But we certainly have to remember that there is value in data. Without good data we cannot help students in a comprehensive way and we certainly cannot address issues of inequity if we cannot share information about the disparities in our educational systems. And we must look at all the different aspects of student data privacy – is a law protecting data when used in apps but not allowing for teachers to share information? Is a different law allowing parents to opt out their kid’s information from valuable aggregate data sets? Parents should certainly be allowed to opt out of directory information but aggregate data is useful when assessing school district performance, for example.
That is what makes the student data privacy debate so interesting. It is complicated at best and messy at its worst. It is complex and multifaceted. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, but we need to be aware of all the risks. It’s difficult to come to a consensus on what is the best privacy law. We must recognize that as we legislate what should and should not be allowed, the law must protect students so that we can provide them with the best education possible.
The Louisiana legislature addressed the issue and corrected it. That is a step in the right direction, but as more and more student privacy bills make their way through our system we must be cognizant of the unintended consequences we might bring upon ourselves when trying to work on making privacy more private.