Student data protection bill idled in Georgia Senate

A student data protection bill got bottled up in a legislative committee Wednesday after a state education official testified that its requirements were onerous.

Senate Bill 281 places “draconian restrictions” on schools that “are not acceptable to us,” said Lou Erste, an associate superintendent with the Georgia Department of Education.

It started out as a privacy bill, allowing students to opt out of any digital learning platform and requiring the annual destruction of student data. Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr., R-Brunswick, deleted those elements of his bill due to criticism from educators, who use online apps for new methods of teaching and keep data to track performance as students progress from teacher to teacher.

The version he presented to the Senate Education and Youth committee Wednesday required only that schools tell parents, in detail, how data is collected and used, which companies are doing it and why. An example of its demands: schools must post on their websites “every contemplated use or disclosure of such data, the categories of recipients, and the purpose of such use or disclosure.” It also requires explanation of the privacy policies of all companies that are providing digital platforms used in schools.

Jane Robbins, an Atlanta-based senior fellow with the American Principles Project, a Washington, D.C. think tank, testified that she could not understand the state education department’s resistance to the proposal after the opt-out and data destruction language was deleted.

“It’s strictly a transparency bill,” she said. “This bill just requires that they tell us what they’re doing.”

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, the chairman of the committee, did not call a vote, noting that his committee had only received the amended legislation in the morning and that the education department had concerns. With Monday the deadline for legislation to “cross over” from the Senate to the House, the bill’s prospects look dimmer with each passing day.

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