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March 10, 2014

Cloud Computing Adoption Rate Sparks Maine Legislature to Protect K-12 Student Data

The increased use of cloud computing technology in the K-12 school system has Maine legislators proposing to expand efforts to protect student privacy with the introduction of state bill L.D. 1780.

The proposed bill, introduced earlier this month, would prohibit student data from being sold or used for commercial purposes, according to the Portland Press Herald. The goal is to increase protection for student names, email addresses, telephone number or other identifying information.

While there wasn’t a specific incident that prompted the bill, its main target is the providers of cloud computing services to Maine schools. Because cloud-based software stores data off site, the information is no longer solely controlled by the school districts and their employees.

A recent study found that more school districts are using cloud computing services, which offers significant cost savings. However, after implementing these solutions, the districts are not necessarily keeping up with stronger privacy policies regarding student data, according to the Fordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy.

“School districts throughout the country are embracing the use of cloud computing services for important educational goals, but have not kept pace with appropriate safeguards for the personal data of school children,” said Joel Reidenberg, Fordham professor. “We believe there are critical actions that school districts and vendors must take to address the serious deficiencies in privacy protection.”

The bill was drafted by Maine’s Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta (News - Alert), along with six co-sponsors from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Katz told the Portland Press Herald that the bill is a preventive measure to update state laws in accordance with changing technology trends.

“This wasn’t driven by a specific breach in Maine,” Katz said. “I’ve had an interest in privacy issues and how it relates to new technologies.”

The federal government already has laws on the books to protect student privacy related to education records, specifically the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Additionally, at least nine other states are pursing legislation related to student privacy.

While educators are supportive of increasing student privacy, questions remain about how far these laws should go.

“We believe this bill is a starting place for an important, overdue conversation about how Maine can better protect the data of our students, but that as written, it may be too narrowly focused on productivity applications that provide document editing and email,” said Samantha Warren, director of communications for the Maine Department of Education, to the Portland Press Herald. “We believe this proposal needs to be broadened to also include the cloud-based learning tools that many Maine students and schools are using to do everything from teaching algebra to routing buses.”

Edited by Alisen Downey

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