Friday, May 25, 2012

Privacy Breach

Pam Broviak is going to teach a lesson about personal accountability like a responsible parent should.  Her method may be unconventional.  Pam Broviak is suing her daughter’s school district for violating her daughter’s privacy, and the mean old adults at the middle school will learn the hard way about accepting personal accountability for their actions.  Don’t mess with the privacy of a 13 year old Broviak. 

Here’s the back story.  After an incident at school, administrators asked the student to pull up her Facebook page so that they could view the contents.  Broviak’s daughter complied; however, the daughter became “embarrassed and very upset” by the perceived invasion of privacy and is traumatized by the entire experience.

The mother explains that because of this breach, her precious child has learned the painful lesson that “you can’t trust anyone”.  As we know, that is a lesson most of us don’t have to learn until we buy our first used car, and by that point, we are emotionally equipped.  Poor little Broviak is barely a teen.

During an investigation, officials at this middle school admit that they do ask students to show them their Facebook postings or text messages from their cell phones.  They do not ask for passwords for future access.  They do not randomly search all electronic media looking for students who may have strayed from the path of righteousness.  During the course of an investigation in which they have reason to believe the student might have knowledge, they request to see what’s on their personal wall.

Yes, there is a risk that information beyond the scope of the school administrators’ investigation could be revealed during such an event.  The girl’s Facebook page could have details of a personal or family illness or other personal activities that while legal, are of a morally questionable nature.  That is certainly possible although school administrators are not the student’s employer or a disinterested party.

Ms. Broviak has referred to these incidents of Facebook viewing by school officials as “abuse”.  I respectfully disagree.  The only abuse here is being perpetrated by the mother.  Failure to teach a 13 year old child that Facebook postings are not private is abuse.  If Ms. Broviak was caught passing a note from one desk to another back during her heyday in the 1980s, would she have claimed privacy as a reason not to hand over the note?  Hmm, come to think of it, she probably would have.

Facebook has been very clear about their company mission.  In a word, it is “openness”.  Openness and their fealty to the concept and benefits of openness are why it has 900 million members and a company valued anywhere between a gazillion and mega-gazillion.  Sure, Facebook has a privacy policy, but “you can’t trust anyone”, as Pam Broviak knows all too well.

The three lessons that her daughter should have gotten at home are as follows: choose your friends carefully; respect authority figures in school; before you hit ‘send’ on any electronic device, imagine the words on the front page of the New York Times.  If you would be ashamed, don’t send/post it.

Privacy is a 20th century construct.  The Internet of the 21st century is a public forum.  Young Broviak needs to learn that lesson now before it’s too late. 
Protect children, yes.  Coddle them, no.  That is my free lesson for parents, and if you know Pam Broviak, feel free to pass it along to her.  This posting is not private.


  1. I agree with you that people need to understand that anything posted to a FB wall is not private along with anything else publicly posted on the Internet. My daughter does know that. But FB also has a feature that allows people to use it as a type of email where people can send each other private messages. Only the user of that account can see those messages. So the school demanded her password just to read the private messages only she can get access to - no one else can see those so they are private. It would be the equivalent of the school asking for unrestricted access to her personal email. Perhaps the news article was not clear on exactly what they had demanded access to so I understand if you had taken it the way that you did.

    I also realize some people have no problem with opening all their private information to the scrutiny of their employers and the government. But others are not comfortable with this at all. My own opinion is that people should not be forced to allow unrestricted access to all of our private information that is not publicly available online. Fortunately legislators have agreed with many states passing laws over the last year to restrict an employers or a schools access to private account information.

    1. Thanks, Pam, for your comments. I agree that requesting the password was inappropriate and in some cases/states, illegal. I have a cynical view and perhaps I have given up but - I think privacy is gone once I type into cyberspace, password or not. Good luck with your situation - I mean that sincerely.