Learning Center March 4, 2024

Analyzing FERPA Violation Examples to Strengthen Data Privacy in Education

Educational institutions collect vast amounts of student data to improve learning outcomes, personalize education, and streamline administrative processes. However, with the proliferation of technology comes increased concerns about data privacy and security breaches. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a crucial piece of legislation. It was designed to safeguard students’ educational records. Despite its importance, FERPA violations still occur, highlighting the need for continuous vigilance and proactive measures to strengthen data privacy in education.


What is FERPA? 

FERPA, enacted in 1974, grants parents and eligible students (those over 18 years old or attending a postsecondary institution) certain rights regarding the privacy of student education records. These rights include the right to inspect and review educational records, request corrections, and consent to the disclosure of personally identifiable information (PII). Educational institutions that receive federal funding must comply with FERPA regulations. Non-compliance can result in severe penalties, including the loss of funding.


Data privacy and education 

Analyzing past FERPA violation examples provides insights into areas for improvement in data privacy practices within educational settings. One notable example is the case of a university employee who accessed and disclosed sensitive student information without authorization. Here, lax access controls and insufficient monitoring mechanisms enabled the employee to inappropriately access and share student records.

Another prevalent scenario involves the improper disposal of paper records containing PII. Educational institutions often handle vast quantities of physical documents, ranging from academic transcripts to disciplinary records. Failure to securely dispose of these records can lead to unauthorized access and potential data breaches. Instances where confidential documents are carelessly discarded in public trash bins or recycling bins represent clear violations of FERPA.


Digital learning creates new challenges 

The emergence of digital learning platforms and cloud-based services has introduced new challenges to data privacy in education. Inadequate data encryption, weak authentication protocols, and third-party data sharing agreements pose significant risks. A recent incident at a popular educational software provider underscored the importance of conducting thorough security assessments. It also highlighted the need to implement robust safeguards to protect sensitive information.


Addressing FERPA violations

Addressing FERPA violations requires a multifaceted approach that combines policy enforcement, technological solutions, and ongoing education and training for staff and faculty. Educational institutions must establish clear policies for handling data, including regular audits to ensure compliance with FERPA. Access controls should be implemented to restrict unauthorized access to student records. Additionally, encryption technologies should be employed to secure data both in transit and at rest.

Investing in cybersecurity infrastructure and partnering with reputable vendors can help mitigate the risk of breaches and violations. Educational leaders must prioritize data privacy and security as integral components of their institutional culture. This will foster a mindset of accountability and responsibility among all stakeholders.

In addition to proactive measures, prompt and transparent responses to violations are essential. Institutions should have incident response plans in place to mitigate the impact of breaches, notify affected individuals in a timely manner, and collaborate with regulatory authorities to investigate and address the root causes of the incident.


Final thoughts 

Ultimately, analyzing FERPA violation examples serves as a wake-up call for educational institutions to reevaluate their data privacy practices and strengthen protections for student information. By learning from past mistakes and implementing comprehensive strategies to safeguard data, schools and universities can uphold their obligations under FERPA while fostering a culture of trust and accountability in the digital age. Together, we can ensure that every student’s educational journey is not only enriching but also protected by robust data privacy measures.


Take control of your cyber security posture with SecurityScorecard