Past Its Expiration Date: CDT Releases Brief on Balancing Data Retention and Deletion in Education

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Today, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is releasing an issue brief that offers recommendations and best practices for the education sector in retaining data that can serve students and deleting information that is no longer needed. The paper is the second in a series on student privacy.

“Empowering education practitioners with data has the potential to improve outcomes for students. However, this data is often retained past its expiration date,” said Elizabeth Laird, CDT’s Senior Student Privacy Fellow. “To ensure data and technology are working for students, the education sector needs to take a critical look at how long they are keeping information and take action to delete it when it is no longer useful.”

Schools collect and retain a lot of data, which can both serve students and pose a substantial risk to them and their families if it is not managed well. The report explains that data deletion is not a simple task, and that it requires an analysis of policy, legal, and technical requirements.

“In the digital age, deletion is no longer as simple as investing in a good cross-cutting shredder,” said Hannah Quay-de la Vallee, CDT Senior Technologist. “Robust deletion practices are a key step in ensuring that students and families are able to reap the considerable benefits of educational technologies, while being protected from the risks they pose.”

Education practitioners and the companies they work with should adopt a student-centered approach that strikes the right balance between data retention and deletion, and maximize the value of data and technology while protecting privacy rights. The issue brief recommends:

  • Conducting a comprehensive inventory of student data;
  • Creating an organizational student data retention policy; and
  • Implementing technical best practices when deleting student data.

The report also provides practical resources from leading states that can be adapted to implement these recommendations, including samples of a student retention policy, a student data inventory template, a deletion certificate, and an initiative kick-off letter.

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