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Privacy and Children's Data

Privacy and Children's Data

An Overview of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act


Privacy law in the United States is a complicated patchwork of state and federal caselaw and statutes. Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, based at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, prepared this briefing document in advance of the Student Privacy Initiative's April 2013 workshop, "Student Privacy in the Cloud Computing Ecosystem," to provide a high-level overview of two of the major federal legal regimes that govern privacy of children’s and students’ data in the United States: the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

This guide aims to offer schools, parents, and students alike a sense of some of the laws that may apply as schools begin to use cloud computing tools to help educate students. Both of the relevant statutes – and particularly FERPA – are complex and are the subjects of large bodies of caselaw and extensive third-party commentary, research, and scholarship. This document is not intended to provide a comprehensive summary of these statutes, nor privacy law in general, and it is not a substitute for specific legal advice. Rather, this guide highlights key provisions in these statutes and maps the legal and regulatory landscape.

About the Cyberlaw Clinic

The Clinic provides high-quality, pro- bono legal services to appropriate clients on issues relating to the Internet, new technology, and intellectual property. Students enhance their preparation for high- tech practice and earn course credit by working on real-world litigation, client counseling, advocacy, and transactional / licensing projects and cases.

About the Student Privacy Initiative

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society's Student Privacy Initiative, led by Executive Director Urs Gasser, explores the opportunities and challenges that may arise as educational institutions consider adopting cloud computing technologies. In its work across three overlapping clusters – Privacy Expectations & Attitudes, School Practices & Policies, and Law & Policy – this initiative aims to engage diverse stakeholder groups from government, educational institutions, academia, and business, among others, to develop shared good practices that promote positive educational outcomes, harness technological and pedagogical innovations, and protect critical values.