Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

When It Rains, It Pours: Protecting Student Data Stored in the Cloud

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

When It Rains, It Pours: Protecting Student Data Stored in the Cloud

Article excerpt



The idea of "paperless schools" is no longer a purely theoretical concept of education reform. In many districts across the country, it is a near reality. By 2017, the Obama-Biden administration plans to have a "laptop, tablet or smartphone" for every k-12 student in the United States, while offering enough bandwidth to get all 49.8 million kids online simultaneously. (1) As schools transition from paper-based institutions to electronic ones, the methods for collecting and storing information have similarly adapted. That transformation, however, introduces concerns regarding the safety of online information storage, and privacy issues stemming from schools allowing third-parties to have access to such information.

On August 30, 2014, California enacted the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA) to "create privacy standards for K-12 school districts that rely on third-parties to collect and analyze students' data, and require that student data managed by outside companies remain the property of those school districts and remain within school district control." (2) This new legislation fills in the gaps of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which had provided student information protection for four decades, but had not addressed issues specifically raised by cloud computing. (3) SOPIPA is the latest entry in a string of progressive California legislation, which includes "a 2013 law granting children and young adults the right to delete posted content from online services, mobile apps or other digital services for which they are registered users." (4)

However, not all states address the issue of student data privacy with California's parent-and-student favored approach. A strong argument against stringent data protection laws is that overzealous regulation will make parents overcautious and deter data storage companies from branching out to new fields. Another argument is that the laws threaten to overreach. Because of the rapid advances in technology, legislators find themselves in an awkward position of catching-up and are forced to strike a balance between data storage providers and parents.

Part II of this note will provide an overview of the type of information that schools collect from students, and how that information is typically stored and utilized. It will then highlight the nature of threats to student privacy in light of electronically-held student data and discuss how FERPA and other federal laws were created to initially address those concerns.

Part III and Part IV will analyze how the differing environments within the states have shaped the various interpretations of FERPA and the varying degrees of deference given to it. California's progressive approach, with the passing of SOPIPA, will be analyzed alongside some of the other more conservative alternatives adopted by other states.

Part V will then focus on New Jersey. New Jersey has remained relatively silent regarding student privacy thus far. Circumstances unique to the state and news of recent privacy breaches will be examined when determining how state courts and legislators are likely to act. Part V will conclude and provide a recommendation regarding the type of approach New Jersey should adopt.


Many factors, such as district size and urbanization, influence schools' reasoning for the implementation and utilization of online storage. States vary on who can obtain student information, such as parents or school officials. They also vary on what information is available for perusal, from test scores to "early warning" drop-out indicators. (5) Online information can be utilized to "customize" classroom experiences. Teachers can track grades to determine areas requiring further elaboration, creating personalized lesson plans tailored to each student. …

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