The ACLU of Minnesota just won a significant victory against surveillance of Minnesota students and their families. And our volunteers helped make it possible. 

Sunday night, Governor Walz signed the Student Data Privacy Act into law. Both the Minnesota House and Senate passed the measure unanimously. 

The Student Data Privacy Act prohibits tech providers from selling or disseminating educational data, or using it for commercial purposes like marketing or advertising to a student or parent. It prohibits schools and tech providers from using school laptops or similar devices to surveil kids and families.  

Passing this law was crucial because schools and their educational technology providers collect an appalling amount of data on students and their families through school laptops and programs. This technology can surveil students, track their computer activity, and gather data ranging from web searches, to photos and videos inside students’ homes. Plus, it is often unclear exactly what data the schools and tech companies do gather, or what they do with it. 

The problem was spotlighted when COVID-19 hit. Schools went to remote learning, greatly increasing the number of kids working from home with school devices and using online educational programs and cloud-based apps for lessons, tests and homework.  

The new law will help protect students’ civil liberties as this kind of technology continues to develop. 

Public schools must now notify students and parents about any curriculum, testing or assessment tech contract that affects kids’ educational data. The government and tech providers cannot surveil students via tools such as remote location tracking or webcam access, except under specific exceptions.  

The law requires tech companies to provide security safeguards. Once a contract is up, these companies must destroy the data or return it to educational institutions. 

The law also gives parents and kids the right to inspect these tech contracts. 

The Student Data Privacy Act was a priority bill for the ACLU-MN this session, and it has been in the works for almost seven years. The bill has had bipartisan support since its introduction, and garnered unanimous support over the interim from the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Commission on Data Practices. Rep. Lucero (R, 30B) chief-authored the House bill in previous years, and this biennium, Rep. Feist (DFL, 41B) took over as chief author. House co-authors included Rep. Lucero, Rep. Scott (R, 35B), and Rep. Becker Finn (DFL, 42B). In the Senate, Sen. Bigham (DFL, 54) initially introduced the bill as chief author in the 2021 session. Then it was taken over by Sen. Mathews (R, 15) as chief author, with Sens. Kunesh (DFL, 41), Limmer (R, 34), and Wiger (DFL, 43) co-authoring. 

The ACLU-MN wants to give a special shout-out to more than 300 volunteers who helped ensure passage of this bill. They took part in seven different calls to action, asking committee chairs to hold hearings and pass the bill.  

Supporters of the bill also included Education Minnesota, Youthprise, the Student Data Privacy Project, and students and parents across Minnesota.  

Thanks to everyone who helped protect the privacy of students and their families for years to come.