Thursday, January 10, 2008

Privacy 101: If You Post It, It Can Be Seen

OK, kids, time to pay a little more attention to your privacy 101 lessons.

This morning, a number of students walked out of Eden Prairie high school to protest the administrations handling of allegations made when photos of students drinking appeared on Facebook. In some cases the students weren't actually drinking, but still they were in the presence of alcohol. One standing behind a bar, but empty handed, another with a plastic red cup on unknown content. In the students opinion, the school administrators overreacted "to the perception" that students in the photos were drinking.

In some ways it reminds me of an incident from last April where video from the schools surveillance system showed two students kissing, which was then reported to their parents. Erik Emery had a few thoughts on that. At least from a student privacy perspective.

But here are a couple of distinctions:

In this case, the administration did not have ownership of any surveillance devices and the actions did not take place on school grounds. Instead they received the evidence from publicly accessible media on a social networking site. That means someone would have to take the time to search out, find, print and identify the students involved in actions that took place off of school grounds and in many cases private functions.

Secondly, and surprisingly, the ACLU had a less than indignant reaction. According to a piece by Jana Shortal of KARE 11 News, ACLU executive director Charles Samuelson said that "There are concerns about school's mining through student profile pages, but that what happened at Eden Prairie isn't a surprise.... Any kid who thinks what they post on a social networking website is private is an idiot."

Rather straightforward there, Mr. Samuelson.

The reporter also mentions later that "Samuelson says the students rights were not violated because the students in question are part of athletic teams or extra-curricular activities that strictly enforce a zero tolerance policy when it comes to using drugs or consuming alcohol."

42 students were interviewed, 13 were punished.

In a statement to ABC news, Dave Stead, the executive director of the Minnesota State High School League, of which Eden Prairie High is a member said, "All students who participate in school activities have to sign a liability brochure saying they understand the rules and will follow them. Rules include not using, possessing, giving, buying alcohol or drugs. These students signed the pledge and then violated it — so appropriate penalties were given."

I actually think that the response by the principal to the parents was well thought out.

In it, Conn McCartan says, "Although, school officials did not go looking for these photos on student social networking sites, our interviews with students suggest that these may be posted on such sites. If that is the case, it gives me an opportunity to revisit some things I have shared with families in the past. These sites are not private places. Their content forms a permanent and public record of conversations and pictures. We do not go out looking at student social networking sites. We do however take action when we are given legitimate information about school or Minnesota State High School League violations."

Careful out there folks, what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but online word travels quickly.

1 comment:

Duathlon Dawg said...

This is just the newest form of "Social Darwinism", also referred to as "survival of the fittest". It just goes to show there are three types of people. Those who anticipate mistakes before they happen, those who have to make mistakes to learn lessons, and those who even after making mistakes still don't learn their lesson. As children raised with technology, I have to lump most of these kids into the last two categories. Similar to those kids from past generations that would have a party, while their parents were out of town, only to forget their parents might ask their neighbors about what they saw while they were gone. Somebody is always watching, whether virtually or otherwise.
Normally, I would think the ACLU's reaction to this type of thing would be drastic and extremely hard for me to support. However, in this case I absolutely loved the quote from their representative. Stupid indeed!