U.S. Dept of Ed Reassigns Chief Privacy Officer, Leaving Key Position...

Policy & Government

U.S. Dept of Ed Reassigns Chief Privacy Officer, Leaving Key Position Vacant

By Jenny Abamu     Mar 14, 2018

U.S. Dept of Ed Reassigns Chief Privacy Officer, Leaving Key Position Vacant
Betsy DeVos at SXSW EDU 2018

Update (03/15/2018): The Department of Education confirms that Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Angela Arrington set to become the department's interim Chief Privacy Officer, effective April 1st.

In a surprise move by the United States Department of Education, the chief privacy officer, Kathleen Styles, has been reassigned— according to Michael Hawes— director of the student privacy policy and assistance division at the U.S. Department of Education.

Styles had been in the role for seven years, but she will no longer lead the department as of April 1. Sources say the move was not voluntary.

This change comes soon after the department issued some major rulings on privacy, including what is now known as the Agora Decision. In the case, parents issued a complaint against Agora Cyber Charter School saying its contracts with third-party edtech vendors violated the parents rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The department ruled that parents or students cannot be required to waive their FERPA rights as a condition receiving a public education. It was the first major enforcement action taken in relation to education technology by the department.

“Our office is being reorganized,” said Hawes. “I do not have details. Parents and eligible student can continue to file complaints. The education community can still submit technical-assistance requests. What Kathleen's departure means outside of that I cannot speak to.”

Representatives from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who have been working with the education department to regulate privacy concerns with edtech vendors also note that their work will not change. “The privacy mission of the FTC will continue,” added Kristin Cohen, a senior attorney at the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection in FTC.

Styles has spoken at several events over the years noting her willingness to take on complications with FERPA interpretation. With 15 of 26 top senior positions at the U.S. Education Department left unfilled, according to the department’s website, privacy activists fear that this move will be a major setback to the push to protect student privacy.

“I am concerned,” says Sean McDonough, a participant at the COSN (Consortium for School Networking) conference. “What impact does that have for those in the education community?”

Amelia Vance, policy counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum, echoes the concerns of other privacy advocates saying, "As of right now it doesn't seem like the department has a plan for replacing her... It creates a real risk that evolving technology and business practices will outpace regulatory and best practice guidance."

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