Senate sponsor Chris Holbert, R-Parker, walked downstairs to the basement of his home and opened up a box full of his childhood papers. He thumbed through report cards, coloring books and spelling tests. His schoolwork has been sealed in manilla envelopes for over 40 years. Those envelopes are all the “student-date privacy” he needs.
“I have to realize now that when my sons are in their mid-fifties, it’s very likely there will be data sitting out there on a server, somewhere, about them,” Holbert told The Colorado Independent of his motivation to carry a student-data-privacy bill that he co-sponsored with Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver.
The bill, designed to limit the kinds of student data education-tech companies could collect and what they could do with it, passed unanimously in both chambers. But then it imploded, hours before the end of the session and inches from the Governor’s desk.
The rub is that Pabon put through a big set of amendments on the bill in the House and when it came back to Holbert for approval, the senator couldn’t get behind it. The two agree on one thing now. There isn’t time to find a compromise this session.
“I am disappointed. I think there were a lot of protections here for students and parents, and now another year will go by,” said Pabon.
Pabon’s amendments exempted online schools and early childhood education programs, and allowed for some targeted advertising based on search queries and web visits so long as companies didn’t retain the information. The amendments also generalized the transparency requirements in the bill in an effort, Pabon argued, to keep hackers from using companies’ data-collection disclosures to get at the very private information the bill is intended to protect in the first place.
Pabon said that he felt Holbert’s version of the bill would dissuade tech companies from engaging with Colorado schools because it put too much of the onus of data privacy on business, a partisan reversal Pabon called “ironic.”
Holbert doesn’t see it that way. He said his decision to push back against Pabon’s amendments comes straight from the people who brought them the issue in the first place — parents, specifically moms.
“Concern among parents is that [Pabon’s version] is overly friendly to companies that deal in student data,” Holbert said. “They were really looking for transparency. I pleaded with moms, ‘Is it possible to go to conference committee and find some common ground?’ The answer was no.”
Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother of elementary school kids, was one of those moms deeply involved in the student-data privacy bill. She panned Pabon’s version as a gimme to internet industrialists.
“Rep. Pabon had an amendment drawn up for the industry — it was Facebook, Microsoft, Google, K12 Inc. The amendment gave more rights to industry to data mine and to do targeted advertising. It completely struck the transparency requirement.”
Pabon pointed out that the issue is complex and that for every parent that wanted to see Colorado go above and beyond a new national student-data privacy pledge was a parent who wanted to ensure that their underfunded classrooms could continue to get access to “free” education technology.
Ultimately both Pabon and Holbert made their own pledge — to pick up the issue next year, because it’s too important to put by the wayside.
“It isn’t just about the privacy of my data but privacy as a human being,” reflected Holbert. “When we enter the public, I’m in a public arena. Everything I do or say is under constant examination. But we live free and with liberty if a part of our life isn’t known to everyone. I think as a society we really owe it to our kids and to future generations to have an understanding of data privacy and put the proper controls around it.”
Photo by Matthew Braga.