The nation’s inaction on student image privacy policy in school districts puts students in danger and at risk.

Top priorities for student image privacy


The nation’s inaction on image privacy in school districts puts students in danger

Key points:

In places such as Australia, the UK, and other European countries, strict laws are already in effect to restrict the collection of personal data and the distribution of digital content involving students, to respect those students’ privacy and protect them from harm. But in the US? It’s largely still a free-for-all. Each year, US schools capture, and publish online, millions of images of students, many of which contain personally identifying information. This exposes children to serious risks such as grooming, bullying, AI voice cloning, deepfakes, and identity theft.

However, new legislation to require increased security on social media platforms–as well as lawsuits against social media platforms by parents and school districts–signal that Americans now understand and are mobilizing against the threats that digital environments pose to their children. For school districts, the message is clear: Make changes now, or be swept up in the backlash.

There are three major areas for educators to focus on as they work to protect students’ image privacy:

Infrastructure

Until there is secure infrastructure in place to collect, organize, protect, and share digital content to ensure digital media is processed in a manner that is compatible with data protection law, nothing can be done on other fronts. The technologies that school districts adopt for this purpose need to be airtight, user-friendly, and offer parents or guardians full control over what content is shared.

The following features should be considered a minimum:

  • Central, secure file storage to ensure better indexing and organization, and to prevent access by unauthorized parties.
  • Direct upload capability, so that no file copies are made inadvertently on personal devices that could make their way onto the internet.
  • The collection and management of school media to support schools in gaining real-time exposure, transparency, and control over school media sharing practices, as well as to assist schools in managing parental/legal guardian photo consent.
  • Automatic exclusion of unpublishable content, to streamline security processes and prevent human error.
  • A priority of user ownership, empowering school districts to change platform settings according to their needs and preferences.
  • Parental control over sharing–in a recent survey of US parents, 93 percent said they want control over images of their children, but 42 percent reported that a teacher or school had shared their child’s image online without permission. This has to change.

Consent

It is important that children and young people feel happy about their achievements at school and that their parents have access to images of these special moments. This includes photos and videos taken by teachers during school performances and special events, or by staff and volunteers delivering events and activities outside of school. However, for this to be achieved safely for all students, appropriate safeguards must be put in place to also protect their privacy, especially of high-risk children. Ensuring the timely application of parent and student consent to share digital content is paramount in this digital age.

Digital media platforms can incorporate simple solutions to address many challenges schools face today. Real-time image consent forms, for example, give instant self-managed control to parents and/or students (depending on age) over how their content is captured and shared by the school. These forms also let them see that content, and flag any content they don’t want share publicly. Because people may feel differently about their privacy or personal circumstances change from one year to the next or one moment to the next, a good media management platform should be not only secure, but flexible, allowing users to withdraw or grant consent whenever they see fit. This is not often the case currently: In the previously cited parent survey, 82 percent of respondents said it is important to them to be able to update their consent easily, but only 41 percent reported it is very easy for them to do.

Ethical AI

Manually cataloging vast amounts of digital content is a task educators don’t have time for, and yet, it is their legal obligation to ensure such content is managed efficiently and effectively to protect children. How do they quickly organize the tens-to-hundreds of thousands of photos that schools already have on file and ensure they are handled in an ethical way so that students’ privacy is protected? This is particularly important when managing at-risk students.

When combined with human oversight, research shows AI tools achieve faster and more accurate results than either humans or AI can on their own.

Educators and administrators therefore need to feel empowered and confident to sit successfully at the helm of AI innovation and use it in ways that are trustworthy and effective. Ethical AI application, however, is only possible if a school partners with a trusted solutions provider that is able to deliver on privacy-enhanced technology.

I see the recent wave of concern in the US over the insecurity of student content as a move in the right direction. Until you acknowledge a problem, you can’t begin to solve it. Although they may be further behind than they would prefer, school districts across the country have the opportunity to use innovative solutions to safely secure photos and videos of students. It’s imperative that schools act now to protect students’ privacy and well-being.

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