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PIIDPA in Your Classroom

Updated: December 5, 2012 at 2:16pm

The information below is provided by HRSB’s Technology Integration Team and NOT by a lawyer or legislator.

As a teacher in Nova Scotia, I understand my use of technology is restricted by a variety of laws. Can you tell me more about that?

For every teacher there is a list of laws (federal and provincial), regulations, and policies that govern or restrict what they can do (are allowed to do legally) with technology in their classrooms.  This list includes, but is not limited to, the Criminal Code of Canada, all legislation that addresses copyright, federal and provincial privacy laws, the Education Act, Department of Education policies including the Acceptable Use Policy, individual school board regulations and policies including each board’s Acceptable Use Policy and any rules in place at individual schools.

Of all the items in that list the most restrictive is probably Nova Scotia’s Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act and its Regulations.

Similar legislation came into effect in several provinces as a result of legislation in the USA. That US legislation (this is a paraphrase, NOT a legal statement by any means) allows US officials to seize data stored on a server in the US at any time, without providing a reason. It also allows that information to be seized without the knowledge of the owner and can prohibit the operator/technician who provides it from informing his superiors (who are not necessarily the owners of the data).

But I like Dropbox, Google Tools and other Web 2.0 tools.  What are you saying?

If you are a teacher in NS who is using Dropbox, Edmodo, Google Tools, or any of hundreds of other websites, services, and tools that are housed on US servers then an official of the US government can order the technician monitoring that server at any given moment to hand over any or all data on the server. That would include the information you have provided in YOUR account, as well as any information you’ve provided about your students OR caused your students to provide by “signing up” on that server for that resource. AND… you would not be informed, nor would the owner of that server or service necessarily be informed.

So, what does this PIIDPA legislation say?

Generally, PIIDPA says that no provincial entity (this includes schools for the purposes of this discussion) can store, or cause to be stored, any personally identifying information on a server located outside of Canada.

How do I know where a server is located?

Well, the easy answer is YOU don’t. So… when you don’t know… play it safe and don’t use the service in your classroom or with your students or for any work related purpose. To get a little more precise, but still not exact you can often track down the location of a company/server.

(NOTE: .ca or .com is not an indicator of server location.)

The first thing you might try is to click the Contact link on the website. Almost all sites will have a Contact link/tab, or something similar. (If not Contact, try About, or Company Information.) If they don’t have a way to contact them, then you should think very seriously about using them anyway. So, in the contact link there will often be an address. If the address is outside of Canada, then… you’re out of luck.

What if this US company uses servers that are in Canada?

Good question!! Unfortunately, it’s quite unlikely.  It seems server space in the US is either more abundant, easier to find or cheaper – or all three.

The sad side of this is that we recently identified a really cool Web 2.0 resource that teachers would LOVE to use. When we contacted the company to ask where they were located, we learned they were in Toronto! Woohoo!! But for some reason we felt there was something missing from that answer so we pursued it and asked where their SERVERS were located. You guessed it… in the US!

But I use Dropbox at home to share files and photos with my family!  Are you saying I can’t do that??

No, at home, on your own computer you can create a Dropbox account using your home email account (not any of your school email accounts or identities) and you can store anything you want there, as long as it’s not related to school or your job as a teacher and employee of your school board. However, you cannot use Dropbox or any other resource that is housed on a server outside our borders for any work/school related purpose.

This information is provided to inform teachers, not to criticize legislators.  Those who write legislation and regulations at the provincial level, do so for good reason.  It is important for teachers to be aware and act accordingly.

The original version of this article appeared on A Cautious Optimist blog.  Permission has been obtained to repost an edited version here.

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