Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Open Door

I'm often struck by the idea of privacy, and its frequent absence in our constantly media connected world. It's an underlying theme in my novel Perception, and lately I've had the opportunity to question some real life issues with our expectations of privacy.

Last year a law passed in the state of Florida that prohibits educators from discouraging a parent from bringing an outside party to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for his or her child. I won't unpack all the particulars, and this isn't a post about our education system in the US or our services for people with disabilities. Of course parents should be able to bring advocates to meetings. But that protection also extends to the media. If a parent chooses, she can bring the local news team, have them record the meeting, and broadcast it publicly. And the educator can't show an emotion that could be construed as discouraging.  

You may ask, "If the educators don't have anything to hide, why would they care?" My concern isn't with the educators or the parents, but for the child.

I post photos of my kids on Facebook, and I've even put a few on my blog. At some point, they may not appreciate that, and there's not anything I can do to take it back. When they're teens, molding their own Internet-public images with pictures, videos, and words, they'll have to live with the consequences of how they choose to represent themselves. Because if they act publicly, and someone else shares their information, there's nothing they can do to take that back, either.

In the past two days, five people I encountered in real life said to me, "I saw Son #2's [insert photo-worthy accomplishment]! That's great, tell him congratulations." I didn't post this information to the Internet, and neither did my husband. I didn't even get a notification through social media that I had been tagged in said event and photo album. It's a great thing, and I'm proud of him. I'm not remotely bothered that my friend chose to share this information. But what if it had been something I didn't want public? Or something he didn't?

Future employers and friends may be able to see with one click a full biography of my kids' lives, not of their making. Big Data scares me worse than Skynet.

While I was picking up my kids from school yesterday, I watched an adult yell animatedly at the child in her care. (I was in the car with my windows closed, so I did not hear what she said.) I wondered if I pulled out my phone, videoed the exchange, and showed it to her, how she would feel. Would she be proud of words and actions? Would I have been in my rights to take that video and upload it, as an example what a screaming parent looks like? And how would it affect the child, to have that moment immortalized?

Should children have a right to an expectation of privacy? For my hypothetical child with an IEP, should a parent have the right to expose her child's disability and the comments made by a team of people about her, to the world via the local news, even if her intention was to fight for that child's rights?

Like a friend of mine says weekly, I'm glad All the Things--Internet, Mobile Phones, etc.--weren't around in this capacity when we were teenagers.

Music for today: Every Breath You Take by The Police


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is an interesting dilemma, Laurie. As you point out, if we're doing nothing wrong, either morally or legally, then why should we fear things being made public? However, when it comes to our children, as parents, we are their guardians and protectors. While they are not of an age to know better, we should be the ones to decide how and where their stories are told (be it in words or pictures).

    I think the answer lies in something I think we've lost in our exaltation of "freedom": with freedom comes responsibility. Free speech isn't simply the ability to say whatever we want. There comes with the freedom to speak the responsibility to use our words wisely. Whenever government has to legislate against "hate speech" or such, I take that as a failure on the part of people to know when to draw the line. We shouldn't need the government to tell us when we've said something hurtful or inappropriate. Indeed, this is dangerous, because government often uses such power in a way that indiscriminately tramples free speech--but that's another topic!

    When it comes to the issue of Internet privacy, even though we may have the freedom to post pictures and tell stories, might it not be a good practice to ask permission first? A simple email or text to a friend saying, "Your son Michael's in a picture I want to post on Facebook--do you mind?" 99.9% of the time, your friend won't care. But I bet s/he'll be glad to have the opportunity to say something before the photo becomes part of that child's online history. This same principle could apply elsewhere--if in doubt, ask. And respect the rights of parents and guardians to act in the best interest of their children, even if that means setting aside your own rights for the sake of others.

    There's my 2c. :)

    1. I agree totally that we should foster a culture of consent. Kate Brauning talked about how YA writers address sex and consent here. I've thought a lot about how that extends to all areas of our lives. It's that constant struggle between personal freedom and deciding when the line of infringing on someone else's rights has been crossed. And you're right, it's left to the parents to make those responsible decisions for their children.