Could blockchain prevent prying eyes from accessing student data? Lawmakers have been contemplating the technologys potential role in safeguarding information.

That may lead to revisions in the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal law governing student data privacy. But political leaders face a difficult task: Technology breakthroughs and the rate at which business and the public adopt products typically outpace the creation of laws designed to regulate technology. Blockchain is likely to continue its rapid evolution, raising issues that might not have been considered in policy debates even just a few months earlier.

“Whenever a law mentions specific technologies, it can be limiting to innovation,” says Sara Kloek, director, education policy, for the Software Information and Industry Association. “Innovation greatly outpaces the speed at which policymakers make decisions.”

A bipartisan congressional caucus is exploring blockchains potential in business, and how government and industry can work together to further its development.

Blockchain’s role in education comes at a particularly sensitive time given the massive amount of data school districts keep digitally even as they face a widening array of threats. Student transfers, a not-uncommon occurrence in a 12-plus-year academic career, complicate their task. Many districts are creating so-called data backpacks, but these can be vulnerable to cyberattack.

The Blockchain Solution

With its decentralized networks, blockchain may offer the best way to thwart hackers.

FERPA, which was enacted in 1974, does not mention specific technologies and operates under the now-outdated premise that schools keep records on paper. The most recent updates to the law’s regulations in 2011 did not envision blockchain or anything similar.

Yet, there is a growing interest in blockchain at the federal level. In 2015, Congress created the Congressional Blockchain Caucus. The 16-member, bipartisan group is exploring blockchain’s potential in business, and how government and industry can work together to further its development.

In March, the Trump Administration announced it would review FERPA as part of a broad initiative to improve school safety in the wake of the Marjorie Stoneham Douglas high school shooting a month earlier in Parkland, Fla. The administration’s focus is on improving efforts to identify students with mental health issues. Blockchain could also help with such tracking.

“There is always a discussion on updating FERPA going on,” Kloek said.

Susan Gentz
Susan Gentz is a long-time journalist who has specialized in education, policy and technology. She has written for the Center for Digital Education's Converge, iNACOL's Education Domain and Clay & Milk. She was Deputy Executive Director for the Center for Digital Education, and earlier in her career, was a staff aid in the United States Senate. She is the founder of BSG Strategies, a technology consulting firm.