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This Week in Student Privacy: 11/4

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ACLU and EFF Urge Tennessee School District to Revise Allegedly Unconstitutional Tech Policy
The Williamson County, Tennessee School District is “being accused of violating the constitutional rights of students over a policy that allows school officials to search any electronic devices students bring to campus and to monitor and control what students post on social media sites.” Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU of Tennessee are investigating the policy, which is “designed to protect students and adults from obscene information and restrict access to materials that are harmful to minors.” EFF and the ACLU argue that the “unconstitutional” policy “violates the First and Fourth Amendment rights, of 35,000 Williamson County students across the district's 41 schools.” The organizations have sent a letter “on behalf of a Williamson County family… urging [the district] to immediately revise [the] policy . . . and assert[ing] that the district's policies infringe on students' constitutional rights to free speech and privacy.”

3rd Quote Launches Search Engine to Help Schools Find Ed Tech Pledge Adherents
Last week, 3rd Quote, “the first online marketplace for schools to buy Edtech,” “launched the first free search engine in the world to help schools easily find [ed tech] providers committed to protecting student data by signing onto the Student Privacy Pledge known as the ‘Pledge.’” For more information on the Pledge, visit EdSurge, Politico, or Education Week.

The Data Quality Campaign Releases New Resources
The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) recently released six new resources on data literacy, education data, and student privacy. The Campaign’s “Don’t Make Decisions in the Dark” series discusses “public reporting of education data.” DQC resources are available to download on the DQC website, free of charge.

Huntsville, Alabama School District Student Monitoring Program Leads to Expulsions
Last year, the Huntsville, Alabama School District “paid a former FBI agent $157,000... to oversee security improvements, including the investigation of social media activity of public school students. The “SAFe” monitoring program “led to the expulsion of… 14 students.” Of the expelled students, “12 were African American,” which, according to Madison County, Alabama Commissioner Bob Harrison, “suggest[s] the system is targeting social media activities of black children.” However, “Laurie McCaulley, the only African-American member of the city school board, said [that student] expulsions are [generally] caused by serious offenses, involving weapons, drugs or sex.”

Additional Articles/Resources

  • Education Week reports on privacy advocates’ and ed tech industry leaders’ differing views of student data usage.
  • Last week, the PEW Charitable Trusts published an article on the increasing prevalence of biometrics and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies in schools, as well as the student privacy concerns that come along with these technologies. In response to “worries over student privacy [that] have risen amid breaches of government and commercial computer databases,” “[s]everal states are now banning or restricting the use of the [biometric and RFID] technology in schools.”
  • According to West Virginia’s The Daily Athenaeum, “West Virginia University shared student email addresses in bulk form with politicians competing in the 2012 general election,” and that “some candidates may be using those emails in their 2014 races.” Emails are considered “limited use directory information,” according to the University’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) website.
  • EdSurge’s Charley Locke wrote a piece on how “analytics tools like Securly and Mevoked offer educators, parents and students a way to recognize harmful behavior and intervene,” “preventing cyberbullying and suicide.” Such tools have led to “concerns about student privacy,” as some privacy and free speech advocates such as EFF and the ACLU believe that this type of student social media monitoring may violate students’ constitutional rights (see Williamson County, Tennessee story above).
  • University of North Dakota Dining Services recently implemented fingerprint scanning in its dining centers. UND students reported “fear of the fingerprint scanner being a breach of privacy.” However, “the UND Dining Services website expresses that no fingerprint is stored and no biometric information is saved with a student’s fingerprint.”

This update was compiled by Hannah Offer. Hannah is a senior at the Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences and a research assistant for the Student Privacy Initiative.

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