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Some tips for judging the security of educational platforms

Since the establishment of the Government Cyber Defence Centre of the Government of Quebec, new policies and directives have been developed and disseminated within the province's ministries and agencies, particularly in relation to the protection of personal information and data hosting. These policies and directives also apply to the education network and should be better known.

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Since the establishment of the Government Cyber Defence Centre of the Government of Quebec, new policies and directives have been developed and disseminated within the province's ministries and agencies, particularly in relation to the protection of personal information and data hosting. These policies and directives also apply to the education network and should be better known.

Since March 2020, the use of technology tools has grown significantly in educational institutions. Unfortunately, these tools are not all equal in terms of legal, ethical, security and privacy issues. A few checks should be made before choosing a new tool. This is why teaching staff should develop reflexes aimed specifically at ensuring the protection of personal information.

What is personal information?

According to the Commission d'accès à l'information du QuébecPersonal information is information about a natural person that allows that person to be identified. It is confidential. With some exceptions, it cannot be communicated without the consent of the person concerned. It can therefore be a person's name, a telephone number, an e-mail, etc.

What there is to know

According to Quebec laws and government directives, the platforms chosen must respect good practices in terms of information security and protection of personal information.

This means, among other things, that the :

  • must have reasonable security safeguards, taking into account the sensitivity of the personal information (the more sensitive the information, the higher the level of protection);
  • must not collect personal information from students or parents of students without their knowledge (if the chosen platform allows for the collection of personal data from a student who is a minor, the teacher must ensure that he or she obtains the consent of a parent or guardian prior to its use) 
  • must not permit the transfer or storage of personal information to a country that does not offer the same level of protection as the province of Quebec (this is an obligation under the Access to Information Act. Generally, in Canada and the United States, the protection can be considered equivalent).

Before choosing

  • Identify teaching, learning, or collaboration needs;
  • Identify possible options;
  • Check with colleagues to see if a platform is already in use or preferred in their school service center;
  • Avoid the multiplication of platforms that have the same purpose (in order to facilitate the appropriation as well as the support for all (teachers, students, parents);
  • If the choice of a new platform is necessary, make some additional checks:
    • Read the About page (is the information clear?);
    • Validate that there is a customer service easily accessible (by email or phone, are there opening hours?; the name of a contact person?);
    • Find out where the data is hosted;
    • Read the privacy and security policy (although it may seem tedious).

Please note that just because a platform is compliant at the moment does not mean it will be compliant forever. It is therefore necessary to redo the verifications every year. For example, platforms can be sold or the political context can change the situation (e.g. a platform belonging to Russian interests).

Finally, to ensure a tool's compliance before using it and to discuss options, teachers are encouraged to contact their school service center's IT or information security manager (all should have at least one). This will help them find a compromise between educational needs and security issues.

The Department of Education's Cyber Defense Operations Center is also available to answer questions from GSCs or to further research certain platforms.

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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