Obama administration pushes for legislation on student data privacy

Obama administration pushes for legislation protecting students' privacy while they do schoolwork online

The White House began pushing Thursday for legislation to protect the online privacy of students, allowing them to do schoolwork while keeping the door closed to marketing and sales, according to senior officials.

“We should be able to encourage those innovations,” senior Obama advisor John Podesta said, “while still protecting kids’ privacy in school.”

Aides believe the initiative is an area where President Obama can find bipartisan cooperation, and the administration is working on the measure with lawmakers in both parties.

“That’s something we can work on together,” Podesta said.

The new push for the Student Digital Privacy Act came as the president’s economic advisors released a report on their work to protect consumers from privacy breaches. Much of the work involves studying the nature of the massive troves of personal data being collected online and how they’re being used for commercial use. One such use is highly informed marketing, in which online users are shown ads targeted to them based on data that’s been collected about them. This can lead to higher prices for people who seem more likely to buy a product.

The administration plans to release draft legislation this month proposing a broader privacy rights standard and also is calling for a single national standard to protect consumers from data breaches.

Lawmakers have tried but failed to come up with a federal standard along the lines of several state regulations to protect online privacy.

Every new report of privacy breach raises lawmakers’ concerns about the potential for disaster, Obama advisors argue. Hours before Thursday’s White House conference call with reporters, the health insurer Anthem disclosed that the personal information of millions of customers and employees had come under a “very sophisticated external cyberattack.”

“There’s a lot of concern in both parties,” Podesta said.

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