The Legislature on Wednesday will consider a bill that would bar companies that provide Internet-based services to Maine schools from using or selling student data for profit.
The bill comes amid heightened concerns nationwide about protecting students’ online privacy.
It centers on providers of cloud-computing services for Maine students from kindergarten through high school. It seeks to prohibit those vendors from processing students’ personal data for advertising or other commercial uses.
The bill, L.D. 1780, is scheduled to be introduced Wednesday before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. It will be presented by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, along with six co-sponsors from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Katz said the bill is intended as a preventive measure and is part of an effort to keep state laws up to date with fast-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.”
With cloud computing, a network of remote servers store, manage and process data rather than the information being stored on a local server or personal computer. The proposal aims to protect student data such as names, email addresses, telephone numbers or any unique identifiers from being sold or used for commercial purposes by providers of cloud computing services to Maine schools.
Federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, already exist to protect the privacy of student education records. Still, Katz said the state must make sure it is doing everything possible to strengthen guidelines amid constantly changing technology.
Virtually every school in Maine uses cloud computing technology in some way, whether it is electronic file storage, sophisticated services or applications. For example, many Maine schools use Google Apps for Education, a free set of tools that includes email, documents and calendars. Any school in the Maine Learning Technology Initiative that uses iPads would have student data stored on Apple’s “iCloud,” as every iPad device is connected to it, the Maine Department of Education said.
Some education officials in Maine said the proposed measure doesn’t go far enough to protect student privacy.
“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. “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.”
The measure would prohibit providers of cloud computing services from collecting, scanning or transmitting any information about a student’s online activity, creating a profile of the student or the student’s household, or using any of the personal student information for commercial purposes.
At least nine other states have launched efforts similar to Katz’s proposal.
Cloud computing has increased as a way for schools to save money. By having information and software stored remotely, it is less costly than managing information locally and licensing software individually.
Examples of cloud-based services include Blackboard, which offers online curricula and collaboration tools, and ZippSlip, which allows schools to electronically send permission slips to parents.
One motivation for proposing the measure was a December 2013 study from Fordham Law School’s Center on Law and Information Policy, which found that an increasing number of school districts use cloud computing services but fall short of protecting students’ privacy.
“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,” Fordham professor Joel Reidenberg said. “We believe there are critical actions that school districts and vendors must take to address the serious deficiencies in privacy protection.”
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: