Betsy DeVos U.S. Secretary of Education 400 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20202-8520
June 16th, 2019
Re: Email providers violate FERPA
Dear Secretary DeVos:
Thank you for your work on our education systems, and the environment within our colleges. They are where a lot of our future citizens learn practical ways to deal with challenges to our basic values. In particular, I think our Constitution can be regarded as a succinct description of those basic values, and should be taught to all students before they are let loose on society.
I would like to alert you to a potential situation and an opportunity to set an example of how one such challenge should be dealt with.
We expect our citizens to believe they have the right to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" (the 4th Amendment). Federal law supports this at the post office by making the unauthorized opening of mail a crime. For educational records and communications we have FERPA. But, while the post office is very diligent about implementing the law, our educational institutions (that work with more modern methods of communication and set an example for students) are quite careless. Instead of setting the expectation that communication (e.g. via email) can be private and secure, today we set the opposite expectation - that it is not!
Many email service providers scan email to extract information. For example, we have this about Google:- https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/17/google-gmail-tracks-purchase-history-how-to-delete-it.html
The expectation is that information so extracted is passed on to third parties (advertisers and marketeers).
By enforcing existing law (FERPA) properly we can set the correct expectation. To do this, the following
needs to happen:-
If this became Department of Education policy, we would have a system that sets a good example of what privacy is achievable, and what will be demanded of any email system by all citizens outside the educational system. I think it would also help President Trump in his quest to contain technology companies supporting "fake media". It may also be a warning shot across the bow to any company offering new technology that they at least consider the effect of their specific implementation on the rights of citizens guaranteed by our Constitution.