Experts call for bold reforms to protect student privacy

Experts call for bold reforms to protect student privacy

In today’s digital age, children are required to spend significant amounts of time engaging with technology as part of their schooling, but with little to no protection of their privacy.

A recent Human Rights Watch report found that millions of Australian children were at risk of surveillance and tracking by EdTech companies that exploited their access to kids during periods of remote learning.

Earlier this month, the highly anticipated Government Response to the Attorney General's Privacy Act Review Report was released, with the Federal Government favouring 38 minor changes, set for legislation in 2024, and tentatively agreeing to 68 more significant amendments pending impact analysis and stakeholder engagement.

However, digital privacy advocates say that while the Australian government largely accepted the recommendations put forth in the review, they are concerned about when this privacy legislation will be given priority.

These concerns were recently voiced in a letter to Attorney General Mark Dreyfus that was signed by more than 20 Australian organisations committed to the health and safety of children.

The letter, seen by The Educator, says reform of Australia’s privacy laws is more urgent than ever, pointing out that “the interests of EdTech companies are too often prioritised over the rights of children.”

“This is the first stage of what many companies hope will be a lifelong pattern of acceptance of technology that violates privacy. This has to change,” the letter, from Electronic Frontiers Australia and Digital Rights Watch, stated.

“The data-driven economy must be rebalanced to allow young people to reclaim their autonomy. Parents should feel comfortable that their children’s education, especially in respect of technology, is conducted in privacy-respecting ways.”

The letter’s authors noted the “extensive process” that the Attorney General's department has conducted as part of the reform process, and welcomed the government's acceptance of the majority of that reform agenda.

“The sensible and necessary next step is action to finalise bold reform,” they wrote. “Children are particularly vulnerable unless such reform is implemented urgently.”

The office of Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has been contacted for comment.