House approves bill to protect students’ privacy when using technology for school


STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. June S. Speakman to prohibit public schools, school districts or third parties such as software providers from activating or accessing audio, video or recordings from public school students’ institutional or personal electronic devices.

The legislation (2023-H 5561), which is supported by school superintendents and school technology directors statewide as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, is to protect the privacy of students and families when using laptops and other devices for school work or virtual learning.

“During the early part of the pandemic, remote learning became a necessity for students. Then and now, many students have relied on devices provided by schools. But about two-thirds of the school districts’ technology policies don’t protect students from having their location data tracked by the school, or limit the school from using the video or audio those devices receive for purposes other than communicating with the student,” said Representative Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol). “Passing this bill will provide clear, consistent protection across all schools in the state that assures students and their families that their devices cannot be used to invade their privacy or track their activities. They deserve to feel confident that their privacy is protected when they use technology that is required for school.”

The legislation prohibits public school institutions and third parties such as software providers from activating or accessing any audio or video receiving, transmitting, or recording functions on a student’s institutional device or personal device outside of school-related activities. It also prohibits public schools from accessing or using location data for tracking purposes. It provides certain exceptions, such as to comply with a judicial warrant, to locate an institutional device that has been reported missing or stolen, or when the access or use is deemed reasonably necessary in order to respond to a suspected imminent threat to life or safety and is limited to that purpose.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown) is sponsoring companion legislation (2023-S 0702).  If enacted, the legislation would take effect Aug. 1.