Missouri lawmakers push electronic privacy, again

Missouri Guns

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new Missouri law banning schools from electronically tracking students is part of a recent national push among states to increase privacy protections, experts say.

The bill will take effect in October after lawmakers overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill this past week, just barely getting the required two-thirds majority in both chambers.

The ban joins growing pushback and legislative efforts in other states aimed at protecting electronic privacy.

Concerns about privacy, particularly for electronic data, rose to national attention after reports of massive government surveillance efforts through the National Security Agency. Since then, states including Missouri have been pumping out legislation to shelter residents from unwarranted police and government spying.

“We’re seeing this in many states,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Part of it is that lawmakers understand that people care about privacy and are prepared to take steps to protect privacy.”

Missouri voters in August overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to protect electronic communications from unreasonable searches and seizures. That proposal started in the Legislature.

Other electronic privacy laws enacted across the U.S. range from broad protections against email surveillance to measures specifically aimed at limiting potential law enforcement surveillance.

The latest effort from Missouri lawmakers preemptively bans school-mandated tracking of students using “radio frequency identification technology.” The technology uses radio waves to track the location of a small chip, sometimes embedded in a card or badge.

A policy requiring students at a San Antonio school to wear ID badges with tracking chips sparked a lawsuit from a student who said it violated her religious beliefs. The school used the locator chips to track attendance.

Lawmakers and school associations said they’re not aware of any Missouri schools that currently use the devices to track students’ whereabouts. Phil Lewis, executive director of the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals, said he isn’t aware that any school districts have even considered using them before the ban.

But legislators said the bill was necessary to block potential tracking policies before schools started investing tax money into such devices.

“We do not want this to become a mandate from our public school districts,” said state Sen. Ed Emery, a Republican from Lamar who sponsored this year’s legislation.

When he vetoed the bill, Nixon said the ban would take away a school district’s option of using the tracking devices, which he said could locate students during emergencies.

“Local school officials are in the best position to determine the appropriate use of this technology within their school districts,” Nixon said. “Prohibiting the use of this technology would eliminate an important option for school districts to consider when analyzing measures to protect the safety and security of their students.”

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