If your child is in school, you may have unknowingly given the school the right to sell your child’s private information to data brokers and marketing companies. It happens every year and many parents don’t know they could have signed a form preventing the sale.
Schools are allowed by federal law to sell your child’s personal information to anyone unless you fill out an “opt-out “ form. If you don’t fill it out, personal information such as your child’s name, address, email, telephone number, age, gender, height and weight and photo can be sold.
Not only can your child be subjected to a ridiculous amount of advertising from marketing companies, anyone can use that information to locate your child if they really want to find him or her. They can also contact your child through personal emails or phone and have a picture to identify them.
"Directory information may sound innocuous, but it can include sensitive information about each student that is quite detailed," said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum. "And after the school releases this data, it is considered to be public information and you've lost control of it. I don't think most parents know this."
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), a student's directory information includes home address, email address, telephone number, date and place of birth, height and weight, the clubs or sports teams they've joined - even a photograph.
FERPA was written before the creation of the Internet, when a student's personal information was stored in a file cabinet and privacy was not such a big issue. Today, the data is just what a stalker, abuser or identity thief needs.
FERPA also gives parents the right to see what “directory information” the school has about their children. You have a right to block or limit access to that information. But, the window of time you can do that is short, sometimes just a few weeks after school begins. Once the time frame expires, you cannot stop the release of your child’s personal information until the next school year.
This is especially important for domestic violence survivors who are hiding from their abuser. Information that's released without their knowledge could jeopardize their safety.
"When there are situations where the survivor has left with the child and has custody of the child and they're living elsewhere, they want to know that their abuser doesn't know where they are living," said Kaofeng Lee, deputy director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "If this information is available, the abuser could get access to where this child is going to school which will pinpoint exactly where the family is now living and make it possible to find them."
Many schools do not do a good job in letting parents know about the form. Some have even neglected to provide the form to parents and some schools have worded the forms in such a way as to discouraged parents from signing them.
It’s a battle for your child’s data and parents need to be aware that they have the right and the means to protect that information from getting out to marketing firms and individuals.
Congress is scheduled to review FERPA to see what further privacy protections are needed to keep students and families’ information private in the digital age. Until then, parents have to seek out and make sure that the opt-out forms are signed, sealed and delivered.
A warning to parents; this isn’t a one-time fix either. You must sign these forms every year that your child attends school.
Source: Herb Weisbaum, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/student-privacy-n423466