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Timberlake, Zwicker, Vainieri Huttle Measure Protecting Student Confidentiality with Online Education Services Clears Assembly Committee

Aiming to protect the personal information of students utilizing online education services, Assembly Democrats Britnee Timberlake, Andrew Zwicker and Valerie Vainieri Huttle have sponsored a measure that would pose several restrictions on how such information is shared by these services.

The bill (A-4978) would prohibit online education services from disclosing student educational records and amassing profiles of student data for non-educational purposes. It also would require deletion of the student’s data in certain instances.

“This bill was prompted by concerns about the illegitimate sharing of and access to student data,” said Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “These services amass an incredible amount of information about students including their identity, academic records, test scores, criminal records and even photos. With such sensitive information, there has to be guidelines and rules as to who accesses this information, why they access it, and how the information will be used.”

“When we talk about safeguarding online privacy and security we tend to overlook children and teenagers,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset). “We forget that school-aged children make up a sizeable portion of the online community and as we rely more heavily on technology, we need to create targeted and specific protocols to protect them and keep their personal information safe.”

“The information collected and shared by these education services is used for college admissions and even financial awards,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “In other words, this data has long-term implications that impact a student’s future. There must be standards to ensure this information is shared properly and as needed.”

As outlined in the bill, an online education service operator providing services for grades K-12 would be prohibited from knowingly:

1) Using information to amass a profile about a student for any purpose other than furthering education;

2) Selling an education record to any person except in the event of a purchase or merger; and

3) Disclosing an education record for any other purpose than furthering education, required by federal or state law, legitimate research, or responding to judicial proceedings.

The bill does not prohibit the operator’s use of educational records for maintaining, developing, supporting, or improving the operator’s service.

As defined in the bill, an online education service is an internet website, online service, online computer application, cloud computing service, or mobile application designed, marketed, and offering education for grades K-12. It could also consist of any combination of the aforementioned to supplement, or use in lieu of, physical attendance at a private or public school in New Jersey.

In addition, the measure defines “operator” as the owner of the online education service. The measure would require that the operator implement and maintain reasonable security protocols regarding educational records and protect that information from unauthorized access. The operator also would be required to delete an educational record at the request of a school or school district overseeing the student’s education through the service. A violation of these requirements would be subject to the state’s consumer fraud act.

The bill has been approved the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee and awaits further consideration from the Assembly Speaker. A companion bill in the Senate (S-3498) has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.