North Dakota passes landmark privacy policy protecting higher-ed student data

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The North Dakota Board of Higher Education passed a new policy last week to protect the privacy of student data.

The resolution implements guidelines related to the collection, use, as well as control access to students’ personally identifiable information, and will forbid the state’s 11 public colleges from selling or releasing any student’s information for advertising purposes.

“I believe this [policy] reflects the board and the system’s support of our students’ needs to address concerns about protecting their privacy of data,” Lisa Johnson, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the North Dakota University System, said in a press release.

The selling of student information to third-parties has gained significant attention in recent years as schools increasingly collect personal information of their students, with many students and education leaders raising concerns over potential data-privacy violations.

And although student data privacy laws, like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, include provisions to protect students prohibiting the sale of data, many of the guidelines are wide open to interpretation, Linnette Attai, president and founder of PlayWell, a consulting firm that specializes in data-privacy compliance, told EdScoop.

Johnson said North Dakota’s new student-data privacy policy is one of the first of its kind in the nation to specifically address student data privacy and includes language that directly pertains to third-party providers of educational services and vendors to ensure that students’ personally identifiable information is not compromised through software licensing agreements or quirks of open source software.

“I just think that there’s a heightened awareness about all this on a global level,” Johnson told North Dakota’s local news station, KX News. “Who has access to personal information and this [policy] really allows students to know who is accessing their data and what aspects of their personal data are being utilized when we secure contracts.”

The new policy was created by the North Dakota Student Association before being taken up by the State Board of Higher Education, which unanimously voted to implement the policy on June 4.