Parents expect schools to keep track of their kids. But in the digital era, keeping track is vastly different than it was a generation ago, thanks to Big Data analytics.According to its advocates, this is a very good thing. Gathering individual information on students can lead to \u201cpersonalized\u201d and \u201cadaptive\u201d learning platforms. If technology can help students become more successful, what\u2019s not to like?A lot, say privacy advocates, since the collection of information on students goes well beyond data used to shape individual curriculums.That data collection is, \u201cout of control,\u201d according to Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).[ Securing big data off to slow start ]In a recent blog post\u00a0in the New York Times, Barnes said data collection is not just about attendance, grades, disciplinary records and learning aptitudes.\u201cData gathering includes health, fitness and sleeping habits, sexual activity, prescription drug use, alcohol use and disciplinary matters. Students attitudes, sociability and even \u2018enthusiasm\u2019 are quantified, analyzed, recorded and dropped into giant data systems,\u201d she wrote.Add to that anything that might suggest a student is a threat. Gaggle, a \u201cHuman Monitoring Service\u201d (HMS) vendor to schools, says on its website\u00a0that it, \u201cdiscovers millions of inappropriate words and images in student email, text messages, discussion boards, email attachments and computer files, leading to thousands of warnings sent to school district administrators and law enforcement every year.\u201dAll that monitoring, Gaggle says, still complies with, \u201call U.S. privacy and safety laws, particularly those involving children. These include the Children\u2019s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Children\u2019s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).\u201dRob Yoegel, vice president of marketing at Gaggle, said the company monitors only email accounts "issued by the schools," but noted that if a student sends an email from a private account to a school-issued account, which happens frequently, "then we would see that."\u00a0Yoegel said it is up to school districts to notify students of monitoring of those accounts. He said Gaggle notifies school districts of "questionable content, which we define as not promoting digital citizenship."\u00a0Compliant or not, Jessy Irwin, in a post\u00a0on Model View Culture, argued that such rampant data mining is, \u201cgrooming students for a lifetime of surveillance.\u201dOne could argue that data collection on adults is just as rampant. Bruce Schneier, author, security guru and CTO of Co3 Systems observes, as he has many times before, that, \u201cthe model of the Internet is surveillance.\u201dIt also seems that today\u2019s students are already well groomed, given what they voluntarily share on social media. The November cover story\u00a0in The Atlantic magazine is, \u201cWhy kids sext.\u201dStill, as privacy advocates note, there is a large and qualitative difference between what students share voluntarily and data collected by schools that they and their parents do not control, or even know about.According to Schneier, \u201cthe thing about students that\u2019s different and worth talking about is that they're are marginal populations, like the elderly, where bad things tend to happen first.\u201dJules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, agreed. \u201cAt home or when doing business, adults or kids have some ability to make decisions about what information they share,\u201d he said. \u201cIn school, however, kids are a captive audience and deserve higher protections.\u201dRebecca Herold, CEO of The Privacy Professor and a former middle- and high-school math teacher, said that higher protection should include parental control over, \u201cdata collected about teens and children through tracking devices and areas outside the school\u2019s responsibility.\u201dPrivacy advocates agree that schools have a legitimate and necessary interest in ensuring the safety of children in school and at school activities. But concerns about activities or relationships outside of school should be addressed, \u201cwith the parents or guardians of the specific student in question,\u201d Herold said, arguing that blanket monitoring, \u201cis a huge invasion of all students\u2019 privacy, and complete disregard of parent\/guardian wishes.\u201cMuch of the data that may be collected by schools through connected devices students use, such as smartphones and tablets, is absolutely none of the school's business,\u201d she said.Much of the data that may be collected by schools through connected devices students use, such as smartphones and tablets, is absolutely none of the school's business.There are multiple legal limits on how student data can be collected and used. Bret Cohen, an associate with the Washington law firm Hogan Lovells, agrees that, \u201cchildren are compelled to go to school, so in some cases there may not be the opportunity to \u2018opt out\u2019.\u201d But he adds that laws now in place, \u201crestrict what schools and their service providers can do with student information.\u201dIn addition to COPPA, CIPA and FERPA, Cohen said the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), \u201crequires school districts and schools, with certain exceptions, to notify parents if students are scheduled to participate in activities that involve the collection, disclosure, or use of student personally identifiable information (PII) for marketing purposes, and gives parents the opportunity to opt out of such activities.\u201dCohen added that there are a number of states that have passed laws to regulate the use of student data.Polonetsky said in addition to those laws, FPF and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) are asking companies involved in the collection of student data to sign the \u201cStudent Privacy Pledge,\u201d \u2013 a legal commitment that, \u201cany personal data they have access to will only be used for educational purposes and only as directed by schools.\u201dGaggle is one of the firms that has signed the pledge.There are also legislative efforts in the works to increase controls on the use of data collected on students. The Protecting Student Privacy Act\u00a0(PSPA) of 2014, sponsored by senators Edward Markey, D-Mass., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, John Walsh, D-Mont., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would deny federal funds to any educational institution that doesn\u2019t implement security measures to protect the PII of students or that \u201cknowingly\u201d allows that information to be shared for marketing purposes.The proposal would also give parents access to any PII of their children held by schools, let them challenge and correct or delete any inaccurate information and let them know of any other individuals or organizations that are allowed access to that data.[ Microsoft and other firms take pledge to protect student privacy ]However, the last action on the bill was three months ago, when it was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.And privacy advocates like Herold say both current and pending laws don\u2019t go nearly far enough to protect student privacy, because they don\u2019t address the more recent types of data collection.While FERPA covers educational records and PII, it \u201cgenerally does not include the privacy-invasive data that is used for monitoring\/tracking students,\u201d Herold said.And she contends that enforcement of FERPA is suspect. \u201cWithout audits and active regulatory oversight of school systems, it is likely that a large portion of schools do not follow the requirements,\u201d she said, noting that the law, \u201callows for \u2018research\u2019 activities for student information, so that is a broad, generally subjective loophole,\u201d and it doesn\u2019t cover private schools that are not government funded.\u201cThousands of schools are doing pretty much anything they want to with student data, unless there are state or local laws prohibiting such uses \u2013 and there are very few of these,\u201d she said.Schneier is also unimpressed. \u201cThe laws suck,\u201d he said, adding that the fact that Gaggle complies with those laws offers some proof. \u201cI would use the fact that they\u2019re in compliance to condemn them,\u201d he said, noting that the \u201cthousands of warnings\u201d the company sends to school departments are, \u201cpretty much all false alarms.\u201d"The whole \u201cbull---- about safety \u2013 that\u2019s what the NSA (National Security Agency) says when it collects information on all of us," he said.Cohen said he thinks the PSPA would improve on FERPA, which was enacted 40 years ago. But he agreed with Herold that enforcement is a problem. \u201cEven if the bill is enacted, I don\u2019t know if it corrects the problem of the lack of enforcement,\u201d he said.When it comes to safety, Polonetsky argues that schools need to remain sensitive to privacy. \u201cWe want schools be attuned to clues that a particular student is a danger to others, but we need to be vigilant that we don\u2019t criminalize kids for the sometimes irresponsible or provocative things they may say or write,\u201d he said.Still, he also cautions against an overreaction in the form of legislation or regulations that might hamstring schools\u2019 ability to provide the best possible education.Cohen agreed, saying parents should have control over data collected on their children that goes beyond educational or administrative purposes. But he believes they should not be able to block data collection if it would, \u201ceffectively interfere with the functioning of the school.\u201dPolonetsky made a similar point, saying FPF supports the collection of data on students that, \u201care needed to help educate (them) and measure performance.\u201dAn FPF white paper\u00a0coauthored by Polonetsky titled \u201cStudent Data: Trust, Transparency and the Role of Consent\u201d argues that even parental choice, \u201cmay do little to actually protect student privacy, since data policies can be too complex for some to understand.Parents who choose to opt out, \u201ccould end up unintentionally excluding their children from critical services necessary for their education,\u201d it said.Cohen added that while he doesn\u2019t believe schools should \u201cmeddle in students\u2019 private interactions outside of the classroom,\u201d he thinks if schools discover something that, \u201chas the real possibility of affecting student safety at the school, the school should have the right to act."