Social-media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have stoked concerns from parents about how to protect the privacy of their children, yet few parents are aware that school districts across California are using taxpayer dollars to monitor, collect, and store student social-media data and postings, potentially forever, leaving students vulnerable to security breaches.
Legislation by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Burbank) was signed into law yesterday to address this growing concern and ensure that parents are informed when their children’s social-media activities are being monitored, so that taxpayer dollars are used responsibly, and data collected by school districts cannot come back to harm students years later.
“When taxpayer dollars are being used by a government agency to monitor minors, parents have a right to know what that data is being used for and how long it will be stored,” said Gatto. “Imagine the harm that could be caused if a hacker, mean-spirited employee, or even a careless IT worker were to expose a database of all of the things a person said or did as a teenager.”
AB 1442 creates reasonable standards of privacy when school districts collect and analyze (or contract with a third-party entity to collect and analyze) data that students post to social-media websites. The measure requires that parents be notified of the collection policies, and that students be given the opportunity to examine information collected about them. Finally, it requires that any such information be destroyed within one year of a student turning eighteen years old or leaving the district.
The legislation addresses a growing problem in the social-media era: school districts, hoping to identify and prevent bullying, teen suicide, and school violence, are using taxpayer dollars to collect vast amounts of data from students and others. The data collected ranges from statements and opinions, to personal photos, and even videos posted by teens online (or any other member of the public who mentions a school in a post). While the data collection serves a noble purpose, current law does not address how long the data will be kept, when it must be destroyed, and whether parents are made aware of the collection policies.
Assemblyman Gatto has already achieved some of his goals simply by introducing the legislation. Unlike in previous years, when Glendale Unified School District renewed a contract with a social-media-monitoring company in mid-August, the district held a public hearing and made a commitment to inform parents before the monitoring commences. Gatto applauded GUSD for being proactive on the issue, and pleased the Governor signed his legislation to ensure all other school districts follow the same notification and transparency procedures.