Photo Credit: Desetti, The Association for Career and Technical Education
Photo Credit: The Association for Career and Technical Education, Brendan Desetti, Legislative Liaison

If the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA)  professes to safeguard student privacy, why did the SIIA recently testify against a student data privacy bill?

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) represents over 700 high tech corporations and is partnered with the Future of Privacy Forum, to help create and manage the student privacy SIIA pledge.  There are currently 257 vendors who have signed this industry pledge.  This Chalkbeat article  explains how the SIIA  recently testified in Colorado; the article sums up the SIIA’s concerns about the state’s  student privacy bill and mentions that the SIIA  is lobbying legislators to weaken privacy protections of the bill.
High tech lobbying against privacy bills is reportedly happening across the country.
Still, it was a little surprising when Brendan Desetti, (former Assoc. Career Technical Education Legislative Liaison) and current director of education policy for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA),  “politely opposed”  Colorado’s proposed student privacy bill, HB1423. The SIIA education policy rep flew out to testify against the bill, asking to amend it, warning legislators that the bill protects children’s personally identifiable information too broadly.  Desetti said the SIIA was also “concerned” about the bill’s proposal to publicly post the names of vendors who have been reviewed and found non-compliant with the law.  (In addition to posting the offender-vendor, the bill states that the vendor’s contract would be terminated for data misuse or abuse).   The software industry doesn’t like a lot of what this Colorado privacy bill does.  This same rep from SIIA also traveled to Connecticut to testify against their student data privacy bill.  Interesting, since the SIIA Pledge and the COSN TLE seal (who share many of the same industry supporters) are all about student data privacy and transparency, right?
Update: Interestingly, thanks to a public information request, parents were able to obtain emails confirming an industry “tech call” between lobbyists, school district IT, and representatives of several large tech companies  (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and SIIA). In these emails were attached industry combined suggestions for the student privacy bill and proposed SIIA amendments for the student privacy bill.  Take a look at the comments and suggestions; decide for yourself who is protecting tech or protecting children. 

Privacy helps -not hampers- innovation.

As Khaliah Barnes director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) states here:

“Rampant data collection is not only destroying student privacy, it also threatens students’ intellectual freedom. When schools record and analyze students’ every move and recorded thought, they chill expression and speech, stifling innovation and creativity.”
Without trust, technology in the classroom will not move forward. 
The Colorado bill, (that the SIIA lobbied against), has passed UNANIMOUSLY out of the Colorado House of Representatives, who refused any amendments from the SIIA.   Very sophisticated technology officers from some of Colorado’s largest school districts evaluated this bill and felt there was nothing in the bill that would limit classroom technology and innovation.  The bill is now set to be heard in the Senate, where the SIIA will likely once again lobby to weaken protections.

Speaking of trust…

google preset to datamine


When Google, a signatory of the SIIA pledge, was accused of spying on children and not upholding the SIIA pledge, (a FTC complaint was filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), the SIIA did not come to the defense of children. Instead, the SIIA defended Google and the carefully worded promises in SIIA.  So if EFF, a large foundation with the means, the attorneys, the expertise,  is facing this kind of opposition from the software industry, how would a lone parent fare? 


Can a parent file a complaint if a SIIA signatory vendor is not in compliance? Is the SIIA student privacy pledge enforceable?

The SIIA pledge has been called a one-sided promise and others have criticized the pledge for not addressing security concerns, some have said that much like FERPA, SIIA edtech companies will not face penalties if they choose to renege on their SIIA promise and yet others have said that SIIA pledge is enforceable only on a company-by company basis.
Data privacy laws are murky and are often overlooked, outdated or misunderstood. 
As Joel Reidenberg of Fordham CLIP states here, we desperately need a FERPA update to give parents a private right of action, a way to hold accountable those who are misusing student data.  Currently, parents have the burden of proof. Parents must somehow show how hidden, unknown data is misused and then it is up to the parents to hire an attorney and go up against the heavily funded edtech industry.
siia FAQ says enforecable by FTC
siia says call ftc
Brendan Desetti,  the SIIA representative,  says that parents who think SIIA vendors are misusing data should call the the Federal Trade Commission (regarding FTC  section 5, ) and parents should also contact their state Attorney General.   This advice is also found on the SIIA website, above.

So what happened when a parent called the FTC?

Turns out, neither the FTC representative we spoke to, (nor the supervisor we were transferred to),  had heard of the SIIA pledge.  After explaining the SIIA pledge and Mr. Desetti’s testimony to the FTC folks,  and after  they looked at the SIIA website,  the FTC supervisor stated that the FTC does not enforce the SIIA pledge.  The pledge is a promise, not a law.  The FTC said the only student privacy violation they enforce is COPPA, which is a law that applies to children under 13 years old.
But, if you go back to section 5 of the FTC that prosecutes deceptive practices on a company -by- company basis,  a parent must show that a company has breached its contract and misused data. If you have the means, the documentation, that is possibly enforceable, right?  As written, would the SIIA pledge even help or factor into this? Perhaps?  It is possible that the FTC can help parents who have documented concerns of  a company misusing data. These parents can call the FTC with a complaint: 1-877-FTC-HELP.
However, if the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)  has already come to the defense of an accused vendor and not children, and knowing that the SIIA relies on access to student data and makes money off of edtech products, and now the SIIA is actively opposing student data privacy bills,  it’s a little difficult for parents to put their trust in SIIA.  It’s all about protecting the kids? $$$$
 siia privacy laws impacting business

Cheri Kiesecker

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