Should Students Have a Reasonable Right to Online Privacy?

internet privacy and children
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Because they grew up in a digital age, it would seem like kids today would be so-called digital natives: able to navigate the challenges of cyber living with ease but it’s not quite that simple. Young people are immature and can be impulsive. Caught in a digital paradox of wanting to share their private lives publicly while keeping themselves safe and secure is tricky. Parents need to embrace their use of technology while also schooling children in balancing privacy and discretion.

While the right to privacy itself is not spelled out in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has agreed that several amendments protect our privacy. We have rights that protect our privacy when it comes to being suspected of a crime, making decisions about our bodies and living our lives without interference from the government. This includes the public schools. Students do have fewer privacy rights inside school than outside[1]. This includes the right of the school to search students without a warrant if they have “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated… either the law or rules of the school.”[2] Logically, this ability also includes a student’s online presence, so the same rule applies: if you don’t want someone else to see it, don’t put it in your locker or on the Internet.

The Selfie Generation is Savvier than You Think

Most parents worry that their kids are not managing their online reputation successfully through social media or other outlets, but most teens are well-aware of the need to keep things private. 56% find it easy to set privacy controls, according to a joint study by Pew Research Center and the Berkman Center for Internet Society. Using privacy settings in social media is the primary tool that teens use to hide their personal information. 60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private, and girls are more likely to have a private profile than boys (70% vs. 50%).[3]

Personal Data Privacy

Schools collect a huge amount of data about their students, and they are required to share that information more often than you might expect. The Buckley Amendment also called the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is the most visible federal protection for student data privacy in that it protects the confidentiality of student files while giving students the right to see their records.[4] FERPA was amended in 2002 through the US Patriot Act to require schools to turn over information about immigrant students to the INS.[5] One provision of No Child Left Behind obligates high schools to turn student contact information over to military recruiters unless parents or students explicitly opt out of the release.[6] So schools do share student information, but the goal is to do so with keeping privacy protected when possible.

What Schools Can Do

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law by President Clinton in 2000, requires that school districts develop an Internet safety plan “incorporating the use of filtering or blocking technology on computers with Internet access.”[7] This means the schools and libraries must make a good faith effort to block images that are obscene, pornographic or are harmful to minors. FERPA also requires that personally identifiable student information cannot be disclosed without written consent except studies, audits and programs related to federal legal requirements and health and safety emergencies. So if there is a natural disaster, FERPA might allow for the disclosure of student information to find and ensure the safety of students in that town.

Ask and Get Answers

When it comes to online safety, some degree of privacy must go out the window. Arming your child with information and asking them questions is the best way to keep up with their online presence. Ask them what games apps and social platforms they use. Are these geared toward kids or can adults and children interact? If so, have a candid conversation about dealing with strangers online. Would they send pictures and share their last name or address with a stranger offline? Then they shouldn’t do that online either. Friend or follow them to keep up with what they post. Setting rules about how and when devices can be used will also help keep you aware of how they are spending their time online.

Curious about how your student understands his or her digital citizenship and online privacy rights? Want to help them be more mindful about their digital footprint? Pride Surveys takes the guesswork out of the surveying process to ask these and other questions. First, we provide your school with the scientifically reliable and valid surveys of your choice. Once the surveys are complete, we handle the input and preliminary analysis of the raw data and then provide decision-makers with an innovative electronic dashboard. Here, they have a comprehensive and easy-to-understand view of the school’s data, which enables them to begin the process of interpretation and action planning.

Browse the different types of student surveys we offer and find out why Pride is the best choice to help you survey your school. Questions? Give us a call at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form.

[1] “Excerpts from the Supreme Court Opinions on Student Searches.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[2] “Your Fourth Amendment Rights.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[3] “Teens Care About Online Privacy Just Not the Same Way You Do.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[4] “Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[5] “Recent Amendments to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Relating to Anti-Terrorism Activities.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[6] “Policy Guidance – Access to High School Students and Information on Students by Military Recruiters.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

[7] “Child’s Internet Protection Act.” Retrieved 11 September, 2017 at

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