Acknowledging that schools have “long been targets for cyber thieves,” the Federal Student Aid Office (FSA) of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) posted an alert on October 16, warning school districts and other educational institutions of criminal extortion schemes threatening to release sensitive student data. Recent, similar cyberattacks in Montana and Iowa are being investigated by the FBI.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will co-host a live workshop on December 1, 2017 highlighting two intersecting regulatory regimes: the FTC’s rules implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which applies to K-12 schools and to children under the age of 13, and the simultaneous application of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which also applies to schools and is administered by ED.
Most institutions of higher education are very familiar with the Family Educational Rights Protection Act (FERPA), which applies to all state and local, public and private educational institutions that receive federal funds through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Unless at least one of FERPA’s exceptions applies, institutions risk sanctions from ED – including the potential loss of all federal funding – if they disclose a student’s personally identifiable information (PII) from an education record without the student’s express prior written consent. Beyond FERPA, higher education institutions have additional legal responsibilities to assiduously secure and protect student data from inadvertent disclosure, particularly financial information maintained by an institution regarding students or their families.