Keep the Lens Cap On: Internet Security and Privacy in a School Setting | Edutopia
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Keep the Lens Cap On: Internet Security and Privacy in a School Setting

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger
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I have been working with a few school districts on maximizing their technology's impact, and the issue of student security and privacy often comes up. This blog entry is meant as material for discussion, and my comments or thoughts are not intended to serve as legal advice in any way. This post is simply a way to start the discussion and is an opportunity for all of us to hear various perspectives.


How many of you have seen this: A proud parent attend a child's school program, such as a band performance, chorus concert, or play, and he or she takes way too many photos of the event or records every second on videotape. I certainly have! We're proud of our children. We want all their shining moments captured so we can view them again and again, inflict them on unwitting friends and relatives, and use them to embarrass our kids years down the road, right?

In all seriousness, we do want to record the events of our children's lives, because those events are precious. The digital age has made this so much easier. Now, not only can we photograph and videotape these performances, but we can also share the recordings with friends and relatives around the world with a few quick clicks of a mouse. We can also archive them in multiple ways, safely securing and storing them for any time we might want to watch and listen again.

I've certainly taken full advantage of the many opportunities to record my own child, and to digitally mix and share those recordings. I have them stored on my computer, backed up onto a separate hard drive and, in some cases, shared in online folders. However, I'm careful not to expose private information or put my child in harm's way. Further, I certainly don't include images or videos of other people's children. If other children are a part of the video, I simply don't share it outside my own family.

For the Record

This new technology has made the whole process of videotaping or photographing school events more complicated. What if a parent wants to film the whole concert and post it on YouTube? What does a school say to that? Do other parents know that their child might be visible in this video that will be available to the whole world? Does it matter? Does a school ban videotaping all together just to be safe? A school in Virginia recently found itself in this very situation, and it is finding it difficult to balance the tradition of proud parents wanting to videotape these special moments with the need to protect people's right to privacy from a worldwide Internet audience.

Also, if a school choir has permission to sing songs, does that permission extend to someone recording those songs and uploading them to a Web page? That's not likely, depending on the song and its copyright details.

Here's how a district I've recently been in contact with has handled it. Charlie Makela, from Arlington Public Schools, in Arlington, Virginia, says, "The copyright issue was an easy one because, usually, the performance rights that accompany most music and plays do have stipulations concerning recording the performance. A careful reading of the license will indicate if recording is allowed. We asked a number of educators what they thought, and most people responded that we should develop a disclaimer and print it on the event's program to indicate that we do not allow the recording of the performance. Some even suggested an announcement at the beginning of the event to remind parents of the law."

YouTube, for example, clearly states in its user agreement that uploaders should follow all copyright laws and that users assume all responsibility for posting only legal materials. We can inform parents of the copyright legalities, but can we enforce them? Is it even the school's responsibility?

Picture Puzzle

Of greater concern to many was the issue of posting the children's pictures or videos online. Some educators felt that because the school is considered a public place, we cannot prohibit parents from taking pictures. But most school districts have a policy in place regarding uploading of student pictures, and they strongly recommend that we remind parents about the possible dangers of posting both pictures and the names of students on the Internet. (Schools can do this as part of an Internet-safety outreach to parents: Many parents do not perceive posting pictures of their child's performance as dangerous; they simply wish to share their child's talents with family and friends.)

The Arlington schools are working on possible solutions. One idea is to simply educate parents, providing clear reminders about copyright laws and safety, but stopping there and not attempting to monitor parents at all. Another tactic would be to strongly discourage parents from recording events, but not necessarily enforce a ban. A third tack would be to prohibit recording of any kind in order to protect everyone involved.

How does your school or district handle this? Has it come up yet? What solution did you reach? Please share your thoughts here.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Trina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that safety is such an important thing to think about when using technology to reach the larger community. At my school we must get signed parental permission in order to take pictures and use them on the internet or anywhere else. Unfortunately, there are some situations that come up in life that make parents wary of their child's image on the internet posted to the world at large.

Speaking of the world at large, I would like to talk about safety in classrooms using the internet. Recently at my school we were not allowed to use student computers because the filter that my district uses was somehow disabled. It may sound silly, but my kids and I were devastated. I use the computers during reading, math, and science. There are such wonderful, free sites on the internet that support learning with examples in an entirely individual way. My students learn so much from interacting with the computer in an educational way, and they take this learning home and use it there too. I don't really know what I want to get out of this discussion...perhaps someone going, "Huh."

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


This is a constant struggle at the schools I've worked only hits home when you approach it from the standpoint of saying to the teacher/artist/musician involved, "What if that was YOUR WORK being recorded without your consent?"
Also, in this reality show crazed world, everyone seems to want to be recorded...even at the cost of the kids safety...
Faculty seem to want black and white answers to copyright/recording licenses...and there aren't any. That's why there are tell us what it all means(?).

Harvey Franklin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Good Point. At first I wanted to disagree, but then I was watching MSNBC's "Lockup" series. I thought prisoners have no rights, but they would have their faces blotted to conceal their identity. Perhaps they may be embarrassed for being in prison. Perhaps other criminals will take advantage of harming the prisoner's family.

As a technology coordinator, I never even thought of the idea of having another child in the background could be invading one's privacy. But how would I feel if a pedophile happens to like my child who was innocently standing in the background on the school website? Now I understand. I had to check the policy in my district. Yes, I have taken pictures of the students, but I haven't put them on the web, I usually keep them on file if the school needs them. Most pictures are taken during family engagements and the children are posing with the parents.

From what I know, we have sent permission forms if parents (or children over 18) want to have their child viewed online or on pictures as well as internet usage. Then next year it would be more of an assumption. That means the district will assume that the parents would not mind having their child appear on any type of media, if so they will have to write a form. I have not heard of any issues as of yet.

Thank you, Chris. I will be more aware of this issue. What should I do about the year books and the class pictures? We send forms to remind parents that pictures will be taken. So is it their responsibility to inform us about them being uncomfortable having their child appear before the camera?

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Trina, you're not alone. You would not believe (or maybe you would!) how many schools I visit where there are some serious filtering/blocking issues that continue to plague teachers. I wholeheartedly support a filtering mechanism to help shield students from inappropriate sites, pornography, etc. while at school. However, I feel like many times when I'm working in districts, the instructional/teacher group has little input into the filtering/blocking system in place. That's a shame, because of everything you so well explained!

Mary Raub's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is interesting all the talk about internet in the school. I am a teacher in a public school in Indiana. A few years ago a teacher was fired because a group of second and third grader got on an inappropriate web site. Was it the teachers fault? Should students be able to get on web sites? This happened during indoor recess when the teacher was not even in charge of her students. Was this fair? How can a teacher watch every student? This was a very unfortunate case and the teacher was put at fault.

Kevin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have never really worried to much about the copy infingement aspect of this issue. At our school we are more concerned about the privacy issues.

We have a form for students to get permission to have their picture on the webpage or in the newspaper. We have several parents that do not want those pictures made available to the public for various reasons. Maybe they are afraid of pedophiles seeing thier kid, or maybe the student is a foster child, and they don't want the parent to know where the child is.

We take this very seriously at our school and check our forms before anything is published. I don't believe that anyone has considered the idea of parents taking pictures or videos and posting them on the internet. This is something that we will definately have to look into further.

If some breaks copyright rules, there will be a cease and decist order issued and the video will be removed, nto a huge deal. If an abusive parent finds where their child has been placed and shows up to get them, this is a much larger issue.

Wendy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have never even thought of this as a problem. As a teacher at the beginning of every school year and as new students come in, I take up the internet agreement and permission for pictures signature paper and note those that are not to use the internet or post pictures. My daughter is in my 5th grade class and I agree to her using the internet and having pictures taken, but never thought about anyone else using her picture to place on the internet. I will now go back and read the handbook more carefully. If this is not mentioned, I will immediately take action now so that it can be placed in the handbook for the next school year.

Another problem I had this year was the filter for our school internet did not work. Pornogrography was able to be viewed by students. The only response that was given was that there is no way that every filter can work. I am just now beginning to use the internet for other things beside school. Does anyone know if there is a filter that is foolproof?

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