A bill championed by the ACLU of Minnesota to protect students and their families from surveillance by their public schools just became law.
Governor Walz signed the Student Data Privacy Act into law Sunday night. Both the Minnesota House and Senate passed the measure unanimously.
“The Student Data Privacy Act prohibits schools and Big Tech from surveilling children and their families through school-issued laptops and other technology,” said ACLU-MN Executive Director Deepinder Singh Mayell. “The constitutional right to privacy does not end at schoolhouse doors, or when lessons go online. Children go to school to learn, not to be spied on.”
The Student Data Privacy Act prohibits schools and tech providers from using school laptops or tablets to monitor kids and families. It also bars tech providers from selling or disseminating educational data, or using it for commercial purposes like marketing or advertising to a student or parent.
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. Our 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. Under the Student Data Privacy Act:
- Public schools must notify students and parents about any curriculum, testing or assessment tech contract that affects kids’ educational data.
- The government and tech providers can’t surveil students via tools such as location tracking or webcam access, except under specific exceptions.
- Tech companies must provide security safeguards.
- Parents and kids gain the right to inspect these tech contracts.
- Tech providers must destroy this educational data or return it to schools once their contract is up. They also must disclose any security breaches.
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. It had strong bipartisan support in both chambers.