Blog Post

Student privacy

This is reblogged from Student Journalism 2.0, a project of ccLearn at Creative Commons: http://sj.creativecommons.org/2009/11/13/student-privacy/

 

Student Privacy

We came across an interesting problem yesterday we thought we'd share with you all.

Our partners at HASTAC (the MacArthur Foundation partner at Duke University funding the SJ 2.0 project) were interested in publishing a story about the project in Duke Today, a paper at Duke University, and they requested some pictures from us. I selected 3 pictures, 2 of which had pictures of students' faces in it.

Lila, our all-around-awesome General Counsel at CC Learn, recommended that Duke Today not publish the two pictures with student faces in them since we can't actually be sure that all of the students in the picture have turned in signed release forms which give your consent to publish photographs of you.

We've missed an opportunity to show the world what we're up to in SJ 2.0 because of a rights issue. This is exactly the kind of thing we think you all should be thinking about as student journalists:

If you were in our position, what would you have done? Would you hand over your photo of Paly students to the newspaper, without their consent? Does it make a difference to you whether the license for the photo allows sharing, or commercial use? Why or why not?

If you were Duke Today, what would you do? Can Duke publish a picture of the students in the Palo Alto computer lab without permission from all of the students? Does it matter if its under a CC license? Might the First Amendment protect them?

This also shows why it's so important for you all to turn in your forms. We'd like to publish stories about you and SJ 2.0, and show off all the great work that you're doing.

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So now that you've read their blog, I'd like to pose their questions to you:

If you were in their position, what would you have done? Would you hand over your photo of Paly students to the newspaper, without their consent? Does it make a difference to you whether the license for the photo allows sharing, or commercial use? Why or why not?

If you were Duke Today, what would you do? Can Duke publish a picture of the students in the Palo Alto computer lab without permission from all of the students? Does it matter if its under a CC license? Might the First Amendment protect them?

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1 comment

I'm not sure about the legal requirements here, but ethically, I feel it's very important to get the consent of all the people involved -- not only because it's the right thing to do, but because journalism will fall apart if people can no longer trust journalists to protect their privacy.

I'm assuming the people in the pictures in question would give consent if asked, given the nature of the images (students at work?). And perhaps by participating in public functions such as classes and digital humanities groups, we're signaling our consent to be affiliated with the group, via images or otherwise?

This question is interesting to think about in a broader context -- imagine if the photos were not of the students working in a lab, but were of participation in a controversial protest. Maybe the students wouldn't want future employers to see what they had been doing in the past -- even if that's just working for a certain department, or being in a certain location during a certain year -- who knows. There are many reasons for privacy that a journalist or photographer may have trouble seeing.

Social historians have a history of taking photographs in the field -- either of people passing on the street or at large gatherings (where consent is difficult to gain), or of people who weren't in a position to give informed consent because of fear or shame (think Lewis Hine's photographs of child laborers in the early 1900s, or many of the FSA's iconic images of the Depression). I am not arguing that the end justifies the means --  but we should acknowledge that there are problems and practices we wouldn't know about if consent was obtained for all images. Do journalists have a right to capture images that might provoke positive social change? I think social change would be pretty hollow without honoring individuals' rights to privacy and control over their image, but I'd be interested to hear other arguments.

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