Category: Parenting

‘Reasonable expectation of privacy’ for children does not apply in public places

As parents struggle to protect their children’s online privacy with social media, some may be sensitive to other resources – such as newspapers (in print or online) – that post photos of their children.

Some parents’ fears may come from recent stories such as the one in which Tennessee parents Pamela and Bernard Holland filed a suit, against Cox Media and others for using edited versions of a photo of their son with Down syndrome. Employees of the defendants used the photo (originally published legitimately on a Nashville news site) without permission and edited it to include “’offensive’ mischaracterizations.”

While this may be an extreme case, parents are wary of how their children’s photos will be used. What many do not know, according to attorney Bert P. Krages II, is that any person has a legal right to take photographs in a public place or on property for which he or she has been given permission to be present. Other people in these areas cannot have the “reasonable expectation of privacy” that they do in their homes. Children in public areas are included on his list of “permissible subjects.”

Journalists who interview children may request that release forms be signed; however, they are not required to ask parents to complete them if they take general photos in public areas. Additionally, if reporters ask parents to spell the names of their children, they are tacitly giving consent for the photos to be used because they know they are speaking with journalists.

Assistant editor Heather Mullinix says, "It’s great to ask questions when a reporter wants to interview you. … Just a simple, ‘How do you plan to use this?’ Anyone legitimate would be happy to tell you why.” (Photo by D. Krahulek)
Assistant editor Heather Mullinix says, “It’s great to ask questions when a reporter wants to interview you. … Just a simple, ‘How do you plan to use this?’ Anyone legitimate would be happy to tell you why.” (Photo by D. Krahulek)

Heather Mullinix, assistant editor at The Crossville Chronicle (Tennessee), said, “The Children’s Parade they do on the Fourth of July – I cover that almost every year. Do you get these parents’ permission? Well, I’m usually asking for these kids’ names after I get the photo, if that’s at all possible, but they are on a public street, so we’re OK.

“I’m under no legal mandate to respect that because they put their kids in a public place on a public street, but it’s one of those common sense type things.”

Mullinix said that, if parents do ask her not to publish a photo because of extenuating circumstances, she typically complies “especially in this size market. We live here. We work here. … So you have to be responsible even if it’s legally OK. You still have to have some good sense.”

The Associated Press says that journalists do not need to seek parental consent if a newsworthy story is in progress, children are not clearly recognizable, parent contact would put children in danger, or a teenager is participating in a noncontroversial activity.

“If you participate in athletics, you typically have a waiver,” said Mullinix. That’s part of it. … A football game is a public venue.

“But if I’m doing a one-on-one interview or go into a classroom to take a picture, I’m like, ‘Hello. I’m Heather. I’m from the Chronicle.’

"The Crossville Chronicle" reports news for Crossville, Tennessee, Cumberland County and its surrounding areas. (Photo by D. Krahulek)
“The Crossville Chronicle” reports news for Crossville, Tennessee, Cumberland County and its surrounding areas. (Photo by D. Krahulek)

“I go into the schools quite a bit and do things, and I depend on [the school administration] to work with me on things.”

Krages wrote on his website, “For the most part, attempts to restrict photography are based on misguided fears about the supposed dangers that unrestricted photography presents to society.”

For parents concerned about their children’s photos being published in print or online, Mullinix said, “An ounce of prevention is best. It’s great to ask questions when a reporter wants to interview you. … Just a simple, ‘How do you plan to use this?’ Anyone legitimate would be happy to tell you why.”

Cumberland County school’s proactive Internet safety policy restricts some academic work

While debates continue on whether the Internet should be regulated or how to how to create laws to control online content, Tennessee school systems have already created policy to protect children from Internet dangers in schools and libraries. However, the website filter used by Cumberland County Schools creates some logistical problems for teachers and high school students doing research on campus.

Photo by D. Krahulek
Photo by D. Krahulek

The Cumberland County Board of Education in Crossville, Tennessee developed a very detailed “Use of the Internet” policy, which outlines how employees and students are to use online resources. Guardians and students must sign forms at the beginning of each school year to allow children to use the Internet on campuses. School employees regularly monitor how students use online resources and electronic devices during instructional time.

In 2000, Congress established the Children’s Internet Protection Act (“CIPA”) to limit minors’ contact with inappropriate material. Schools and libraries receive discounts for Internet service when they show CIPA compliance.

In their policy developed as a response to CIPA and Tennessee Code 49-1-221, the board also identifies the schools’ use of “technology that blocks or filters Internet access (for both students and adults) to material that is obscene, child pornography or harmful to students.” In Cumberland County, schools contract with Education Networks of America, an Infrastructure as a Service (“IaaS”) provider, to filter websites that are considered inappropriate for children.

Storme Davis, an English teacher at Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, said, “I agree with the filter. I understand because I’ve taught seventh and eighth grade most of my career, and there are some things they shouldn’t see. It’s better to err on the side of caution.

“However, I went to an education site this year that was blocked,” said Davis, “and some book review sites have been blocked. Why would they be blocked? My students have been studying ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and one of my students wanted to compare Kim Kardashian with Daisy Buchanan. What a great idea, but she couldn’t find an article from ‘People’ because it’s pop culture. Everything related to pop culture is blocked.”

Kim Wattenbarger, librarian and media specialist at Stone Memorial High School, said, “I find the filter very restricting. Students in criminal justice class can’t look up information about guns that law enforcement officers carry. And culinary class can’t research knives used by chefs. Even song lyrics may be blocked from students who are in the history of rock class.

“When the senior English students are giving speeches about toughening laws on child pornography or gun control, they are blocked at school from doing research. And many do not have print capabilities at home, so they can’t bring their research to school.”

Wattenbarger said that students can find information on the Tennessee Electronic Library, but this free service focuses on scholarly resources, which may limit some investigations.

“I understand why the system uses the filter, but it’s restrictive to high school students who are doing legitimate research,” Wattenbarger said.