New legislation introduced this week by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) aims to restrict how long school districts can keep students’ social media data.
One provision of AB1442 was created in response to Glendale Unified School District officials’ decision to hire the Hermosa Beach-based company Geo Listening last year to monitor students’ public posts on Twitter and Facebook, among others.
The service provides Glendale Unified administrators with a daily report of postings as they relate to violence, suicide, cyber-bullying, or drugs. School leaders say they hired Geo Listening in order to intervene if students’ indicated harming themselves or others online.
The district hired the company on a trial basis in early 2013. Without public discussion, the school board later agreed to pay Geo Listening $40,500 near the start of the 2013-14 school year to monitor the posts of students at all of its middle schools and high schools for the course of the academic year.
Parents and students were unaware that students’ public posts were being monitored and reaction over the district hiring the company were mixed.
Gatto said he heard from parents with concerns over students’ data being collected after they learned the district had hired Geo Listening. His bill would require that school districts notify parents when they gather students’ information.
The bill would also mandate that information collected from students’ social media networks would need to be destroyed within a year of the student leaving a school district or turning 18.
“I think that we tried to strike the right balance,” Gatto said of the bill. “I am certainly mindful of the goals Glendale Unified is trying to accomplish, and I think they are laudable, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need safeguards in place.”
By establishing a limit for how long school districts can keep personal data, Gatto believes the restriction addresses concerns regarding whether the data could surface years after it was first collected, perhaps by a hacker.
Gatto also said the bill would apply to those who contract with government entities.
Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the school district does not retain information acquired from students’ social media posts.
When Geo Listening alerts Glendale Unified to any concerning social media posts, “We deal with it and move on,” Sheehan said. “We don’t keep records. This is purely about the safety of kids. It has nothing to do with us trying to keep any type of track record. We want to be able to deal with immediate threats, both for personal harm and harm to others,” he said.
Geo Listening officials did not return a request to comment on this bill or confirm how long they hold on to students’ information.
Glendale school board member Mary Boger agreed with the provision of Gatto’s bill that would prevent school districts from retaining information.
“As a parent, I wouldn’t want the information stored,” she said, adding that Glendale Unified currently protects students’ privacy when it comes to their social media posts.
She also said Geo Listening’s service has been “a tool to help protect and reach our children.”
“I believe that this program has paid for itself a hundred times over if we have saved — and I believe that we have — one student from harming himself,” she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.