NEWS RELEASE: New report highlights gaps in student privacy in BC’s K-12 education system.

VANCOUVER, September 17, 2020 – The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) has released their latest report Troubling clouds: Gaps affecting privacy protection in British Columbia’s K-12 education system.  

Click here for full report.

 “The government is setting the system up for failure.” according to Jason Woywada BC FIPA Executive Director. “Without the resources, guidance and supports they need, teachers, schools, and districts are making the best of a bad situation. The result puts personal information in the system at risk.” 

The project started in 2018 when FIPA began hearing from educators, parents and students with questions and concerns about privacy.  Shifts towards cloud-based learning management systems (LMS) were leading to increasing concern and a search for answers. FIPA decided to launch a major research project to explore privacy protection in K-12 education across BC with more rigorous legal research and analysis. 

The project has come to fruition during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health emergency is leading to even more digitization of workplaces and the education system. The closure of schools was combined with the temporary loosening of privacy safeguards to facilitate the use of online platforms and applications.  

With schools reopening, there are concerns about how students will be physically protected. This report reveals that, whether online or in the classroom, student privacy is being sacrificed by a patchwork approach. It highlights the need to develop systematic solutions for managing the risks going forward. 

“Education shouldn’t come at the expense of teacher and student privacy,”  Woywada  adds. “The recommendations are easily acted upon. Taking these steps will help ensure education doesn’t jeopardize the personal information of the students, parents and educators in the system.” 

We would like to thank lawyer, lead researcher, and project author Matthew A. J. Levine for his hard work on this comprehensive report, and the Law Foundation of British Columbia for their continued support and commitment. Mr. Levine will be presenting on this topic during a FIPA Information Summit 2020 event

Contact: 
Jason Woywada, Executive Director 
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association 
Email: jason@fipa.bc.ca 
Phone: 604-739-9788 


Recommendations 

  1. The Ministry of Education should play a more active role in supporting the procurement of cloud computing services. The Ministry’s strategic role in the public education system and relatively sophisticated information technology capacity should be leveraged to maximize resources, exchange knowledge, and develop best practices for privacy risk management. 
  1. Privacy Commissioner should make use of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ (“ICDPPC”) activities regarding online platforms in public schools. Specifically, 
    1. Actively participate in the ICDPPC Digital Education Working Group’s activities, including the questionnaire that was circulated by the French data protection authority and Canada’s OPC in June 2019, so as to exchange best practices with other jurisdictions; 
    2. In light of commitments and norms embodied in ICDPPC Resolution, formulate a guidance document for public bodies in the education sector so that they may fully comply with their privacy obligations when engaged in contracting out cloud computing services. 
  1. School boards should ensure they have information technology and privacy expertise necessary to: 
    1. Conduct substantive privacy impact assessments on private sector providers of information technology services; 
    2. Develop policies and procedures to assess, approve, and support the use of internet platforms and software applications without compromising students’ privacy rights or shifting the privacy risk management burden; 
    3. Provide training and support for teachers in respect of classroom technology and privacy; 
    4. As required and appropriate, seek valid, informed and meaningful consent from individuals, i.e. students and guardians. 
  1. Ministry of Education and school boards should strengthen co-ordination to: 
    1. Negotiate, as necessary, service agreements with service providers who may be unwilling to negotiate with individual school districts; 
    2. Establish a shared mechanism for rating and otherwise exchanging knowledge about internet platforms and software applications; 
    3. Maintain said mechanism while taking on-board feedback from students, guardians, and teachers.