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Dept. Of Education Proffers New Privacy Rules

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a number of new initiatives aimed to better safeguard student privacy.

The goal, according to a news release issued late last week, is to balance the needs of student privacy with the needs of the authorities to track student progress over time so that the government can judge the effectiveness of education programs.

The proposed privacy enhancements will fall under the purview of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), and were published into the Federal Register on Friday.

According to the statement, the move is designed to bring student record privacy protections up to date. "Over time, interpretations of FERPA have complicated valid and necessary disclosures of student information without increasing privacy protections and, in some cases, dramatically decreased the protections afforded students."

"Data should only be shared with the right people for the right reasons," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data. The initiatives announced today will help us do just that," the statement continues.

Toward those goals, the education department has hired its first chief privacy officer. The privacy officer will head a new division that will promote responsible stewardship, collection, use, maintenance, and disclosure of information at the national level within the Education Department. The new officer will also coordinate technical assistance efforts for states, districts, and other education stakeholders, helping them understand important privacy issues such as minimizing unnecessary collection of personal information.

The Education Department has also said it will establish a Privacy Technical Assistance Center that will work within the National Center for Education Sciences. The Privacy Technical Assistance Center will provide educational institutions guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and data security. The Education Department has also started published a new series of briefs that offer best practices on data security and privacy. They are available here.

Also under the proposal:

-- Enforcement provisions of FERPA would be strengthened to ensure that every entity working with personally identifiable information from student education records is using it for authorized purposes only.

-- Schools will be able to implement directory information policies that limit access to student records, preventing marketers or criminals from accessing the data.

-- States can enter into research agreements on behalf of their districts to measure the success of programs, such as early childhood programs that effectively prepare kids for kindergarten.

-- High school administrators can share information on student achievement to track how their graduates perform academically in college.

The commenting period at www.regulations.gov will run until May 23, 2011.

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