The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was passed in 1974. This act was passed so students could examine their school records and correct false information. However, there has been renewed interest in the law over the last few years. The part of the law stating a student had a right to privacy with regard to school records is getting renewed interest. This article examines why this act is getting interest and actions teachers and administrators should take.
Identity theft is a major problem.
Usually, an identity thief only needs a little bit of private information in order to set up credit cards, access bank accounts, or a host of other malicious actions. If teachers and administrators are not careful, someone can obtain student personal information. This is why it is a bad idea to post grades on classroom doors indexed by social security number. This places two confidential items – social security number and grade – out where anyone can see them. There have also been issues where two people have broken up and one tries to get information to use against the other. Information can be a powerful tool to harm someone. Information bullying can be as big a problem as identity theft.
There are three ways to avoid releasing information unwittingly.
The first way to ensure confidentiality of student information is to store all information, including grades, electronically. This policy ensures that hard copies of information are not lost or stolen. To accommodate students and the need to see grades, there are several good online grading. Password security then becomes a concern as well. Anyone using password protected devices should never write down a password where it is easily accessible. Someone trying to obtain information for malicious purposes could easily find the password and have access to everything.
However, electronics can be deceiving. Sensitive information should never be sent through email. Email is an unsecure medium that potentially has many eyes viewing it. Since email is not encrypted, any type of data sniffer can pick up the email along its travel route. In addition, one never knows who has access to a student’s email account. If message requesting personal information such as grades came from a student email account, this does not mean the student sent the email nor does it mean the student will be viewing the response.
The second way of protecting data is not to allow sensitive data to be observed. It is very easy to have a conversation with someone while there is personal data lying on a desk or displayed on a computer screen. Those who handle this data must be aware of what data is visible at any given time. If someone approaches for a conversation, this data must be hidden in some fashion. Inadvertent conversations can lead to a great amount of data loss.
The third way to avoid sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands is to make sure printed data is secured after hours and users have logged off their computers. A person should never leave information such as grades, student loan amounts, and phone numbers lying on a desk or table after hours nor should a person leave a computer logged in. Most people forget that offices and work areas get cleaned at night or in the early morning. Maintenance must have access to work on areas that need repairing. While most janitors and maintenance personnel may be honest, it only takes one with bad motives or with bad associations to walk away with sensitive data. Before leaving for the day, keepers of sensitive information should always make sure the printed data is put in a secure place.
This article has given three ways to avoid leaking sensitive student information. School officials should always be on the watch to keep as much information electronic as possible, be aware whether information can be seen during conversations, and make sure all sensitive information is secured before leaving for the day. Faculty and administrators can help protect their students from the disasters of identity theft and information bullying as well as be in compliance with the law.
Do you want to learn more ways to avoid identity theft? Please contact a NAID Certified Shred Alaska Representative to discuss what best ways to protect your students. 907-929-1154 or firstname.lastname@example.org