It was a picture-perfect example of how a law intended to protect children can be used to victimize them. But the juvenile judge didn’t comment on the perversion of justice – or the prosecution’s victimization of a teenager by ordering police to photograph the boy’s genitals and threatening even more abusive treatment. He just eased the punishment meted out to the boy (his girlfriend was not charged) in this teen sexting case that was by all accounts consensual.
Although Judge George M. DePolo said he found “facts sufficient on both [felony child pornography] counts” to convict, the Washington Post reported, he “suspended imposition of any ruling for one year, placed the teen on probation, and ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service and have no access to text messaging or social media of any kind. Thankfully, he also said, “The defendant shall not be placed on the sex-offender registry or any similar lists.”
The boy’s attorney, Jessica Harbeson Foster, said, “This is a law to protect juveniles, not to prosecute them, not to create more harm,” according to the Post. But somehow Judge DePolo didn’t see it that way. He put nothing on record about the prosecution’s “outrageous abuse of power and … unfathomable violation of this kid’s privacy,” as Post blogger and author Radley Balko put it last month in a post entitled “We must destroy the children in order to save them” providing some case history on sexting by minors.
Internet safety is a basic right of Internet users. But it’s not the only one. There are other fundamental rights that Net users of all ages have, and I propose that Internet safety will actually serve all Internet users better – and have much more relevance to the younger ones in our homes and schools – when we put it in context, in a framework of online rights.
It’s a framework for all users’ rights that was actually established in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and it leaped out at me while reading a paper by social psychology professor Sonia Livingstone in London and media professor Brian O’Neill in Dublin about how the Internet interfaces with the UNCRC: “Children’s rights online: challenges, dilemmas and emerging directions” (pdf).
“The three Ps”
Safety is one of the UNCRC’s three core principles, or “three Ps”: “protection, provision and participation rights.” For the first 20-or-so years of the “Internet safety” discussion in most developed countries, the focus has largely been on the Protection rights. We parents and educators need to give equal weight to children’s Provision and Participation rights, and I believe that our efforts to teach children safe, effective use of connected media will have more authenticity for them when we do.
Are you part of the Big Parent response to Big Data? Great lede from Politico.com’s Stephanie Simon: “You’ve heard of Big Oil and Big Tobacco. Now get ready for Big Parent.” She’s talking about an unpredicted mobilization in recent months that has “catapulted student privacy … to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming” and “attracted powerful allies” from left (ACLU[.org]) to right (ALEC[.org]). As of a month ago, “14 states have enacted stricter student privacy protections, often with overwhelming bipartisan support, and more are likely on the way” and “at least 105 student privacy bills were introduced this year in 35 states,” Simon reports, citing the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Photo by Moyan Brenn (Creative Commons licensed)
You may’ve heard of the first accomplishment of this new movement: the folding last month of the $100 million InBloom database that was funded by the Gates Foundation “to make it easier for schools to share confidential student records with private companies.”
State databases are next
Next, children’s privacy advocates are tackling “huge state databases being built to track children … from as early as infancy through the start of their careers,” Simon reports. “They are intended to store intimate details on tens of millions of children and young adults — identified by name, birth date, address and even, in some cases, Social Security number — to help officials pinpoint the education system’s strengths and weaknesses and craft public policy accordingly.”
The strength of parent activists’ reaction reportedly took by surprise people who want to improve public education in an evidence-based way, and they’re trying to turn an unhealthy blend of “legitimate questions about data security” and “alarmist rhetoric” into a productive discussion. Further complicating things (and adding heat to the controversy) is the way some states are handling the data. For example, in one state, data gathered on students is processed for analysis in aggregate so that individual students’ data can’t, at a reasonable cost, be produced for parents who request it (see the example on the report’s first page of a retired math teacher in Nevada making such a request for his four children’s data). Read more