Education-Industrial Complex Continues Assault on Student Privacy


Government and education technology entities are moving ahead with efforts to collect more and more sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) on America’s children and their families. Here is an update on some of those efforts:

Weakening of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

According to excellent reporting by Cheri Kiesicker at Missouri Education Watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering removing the parental consent requirement for school technology use. She explains why this is a terrible idea:

  • The FTC is considering several changes, including removing parent consent for edtech. See here (Section E. Question 23 covers the edtech consent exception) Exceptions to Verifiable Parental Consent: “Should the Commission consider a specific exception to parental consent for the use of education technology used in the schools? Should this exception have similar requirements to the “school official exception” found in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”)…?” Tell them no.
  • Edtech should never usurp parental control over children’s information.
  • BigTech has shown us time and time again, they cannot be trusted to police themselves.
  • Advertising has no place in the classroom.
  • Why isn’t the FTC investigating edtech?

The FCC is taking comments on this critical privacy issue until December 9th. It is imperative that you weigh in to protect the privacy rights of your children and you:

The FTC is accepting comments from the public, deadline December 9, 2019. Let them hear from you; tell the FTC: Do NOT Weaken COPPA. Do NOT Give Edtech a Consent Exception. See Sample letters here, here, here, and here.

High-Tech Red Flagging

The great news is that this alarming invasion of privacy using artificial intelligence to create “high-tech red flagging” being contemplated in the name of preventing gun violence (discussed by the Washington Post and well-analyzed by Michelle Malkin in August with additional analysis at the National Pulse) is not going anywhere. That is, at least for this year. The proposed research project would use data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home to flag aberrant neurobehavioral events to try to predict the next mass shooter. This is despite the fact that psychiatric experts admit that it is nearly impossible to predict which mentally disturbed patients will be become violent, and the effectiveness of AI algorithms is only as good as the information put in to them. 

Several discussions with White House domestic policy staff, Senate Appropriations Committee Staff, and House HHS staff have shown that there is no interest in pursuing such a monstrous invasion of privacy. Examination of the U.S. House Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bills shows no such language. The Senate version of that bill is not yet written. It is important to continue to notify your members of Congress that this is a completely unacceptable use of personal data, especially in children and even with consent.

Parental Involvement in Privacy Issues

We link to the following letter to U.S. senators that are investigating the massive collection of data on American citizens, especially children, from a Florida parent with her permission to show the power of a parental efforts in working to protect the privacy of their children. Here is an excerpt:

The act of a district sharing our children’s identities and personal data with third party companies that often collect additional unspecified personal information creates a security nightmare for parents. Even if we knew who all of these third parties are, we cannot possibly assess the security of each system and each company’s policies and business practices to ensure our children and their personal data are well- protected. Rather than consolidating data in one place with one entity (the school district) to be secured, student data is being spread around to so many EdTech companies and cloud-based platforms that I cannot imagine how one school district could feasibly or practically inspect every one of these EdTech third parties for the security of their systems, software platforms, administrative procedures, partner sharing practices, de-identification (anonymization) procedures, etc.

Even with the crush of everyday life and the upcoming holidays, please stay involved and aware. It is crucial for the privacy and futures of all of us. Thank you!

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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