The State of California has recently enacted a sweeping new law that restricts the use of student data by third-party vendors. This legislation prohibits education sites, apps, and cloud services, used by schools, from selling or disclosing personal information about students. It also prohibits companies from using student data to market to them and prevents companies from compiling dossiers on students.

The California law prohibits companies from selling, disclosing or using for marketing purposes student online searches, text messages, photos, voice recordings, biometric data, location information, food purchases, political or religious information, digital documents or any kind of student identification code.

The California law extends privacy protection to a wider array of information than that which is currently covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). For example, information that might be entered by students or school districts while utilizing an app would still be protected by the law, even though it might not qualify as part of an educational record maintained by a school district.

California’s legislation, while it is the most sweeping such law in the country, did not occur in isolation, as it is part of a wave of new legislation passed by state legislatures across the country. In all, this past legislative year 21 states passed some type of student privacy legislation. This legislation generally fell into one of three categories: (1) prohibiting the collection of certain types of student data; (2) improvements on state and district data-governance practices; or, as with California, (3) establishing comprehensive guidelines for how third-party vendors handle student information.

This flurry of activity and the variety of approaches used by legislatures, coupled with increased public concern about the protection and integrity of student information, ensures that additional legislation is almost certainly on the horizon in states across the country in next year’s legislative calendar.