Schools In EU Could Face Heavy Fines For Data Breaches.

Beginning in May 2018, schools in EU member countries (including the UK despite Brexit) must comply with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Not doing so would mean they could be subject up to 4% of their turnover, a figure that created quite the buzz when it was announced for businesses earlier this year (some news sites debated the implication for notorious privacy-stragglers like Facebook and Google).


Walk, Don’t Run

Poring over data breaches of the past ten years, it can be readily surmised that the education sector is not very good at protecting itself from data security incidents, be it hacking intrusions or lost data storage devices. It must be pointed out, however, that it’s usually because they lack the resources to do so: schools trying to stretch their shrinking budgets cannot afford the latest and greatest in technology (leading to banks of old computers running long-abandoned software that is virtually impossible to secure), much less a proper IT security staff.

In the short-term, it looks like GDPR could cause more problems than solve them, especially because schools are unaware of their responsibilities. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has provided some tips on what must be done – but as it’s usually the case, this is not to be taken as a checklist where you can cross off items and declare yourself compliant.

There is much to do, according to an expert interviewed by

  • Replace out-of-date IT equipment and ensure warranties exist for current equipment.
  • Designate a data protection officer.
  • Ensure a formal contract exists with data processors, which need to meet industry standards.
  • Document where data goes and how it is used.

There are other experts, however, who advise not to rush into things as there are some issues that need to be resolved. On the other hand, they, too, advise to “start ‘preparatory tasks.'”


Other Side of the Pond

Meanwhile, in the US, a school district in Maryland has opted to stop collecting Social Security numbers for students:

Director of Technology Infrastructure Edward Gardner, who oversaw the development of the new data policy, said the school system would not collect student Social Security numbers “unless explicitly necessary,” and he could not think of a reason it would be.

This may very well be the best approach to data security: if you don’t need it, don’t collect it. Far too many organizations take the approach of “collect it first and deal with it later.” The problem is, of course, that it never gets dealt with at all. At least, not in the sense of securing the data – be it encrypting, scrubbing, deleting, etc.

Unsurprisingly, a data breach ensues somewhere.


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