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Timberlake, Zwicker, Vainieri Huttle Measure Protecting Student Confidentiality with Online Education Services Unanimously Passes Assembly

Aiming to protect the personal information of students utilizing online education services, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Britnee Timberlake, Andrew Zwicker and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to impose several restrictions on the information shared by these services passed the full Assembly Thursday, 77-0-0.

The bill (A-4978) would prohibit online education services from disclosing student records and creating student profiles under certain circumstances, while requiring security measures for that data.

“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.”

As outlined in the legislation, an online education service operator providing services for grades K-12 would be prohibited from creating a profile about a student for any non-education related reasons, selling that information to outside parties, or disclosing the student’s information for anything other than education, research, judicial or law-related purposes. It does not forbid the use of student records for the maintenance or improvement of the educational services, however.

In addition, the bill requires operators to implement and maintain reasonable security protocols to protect the educational records from unauthorized access. Any violation of these requirements would be subject to the state’s consumer fraud act.

“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.”

The bill now awaits further action by the Senate.