As the new school year gets underway, it’s the perfect time to turn our attention to photo privacy and photo consent. It’s the time of year when annual consent forms are renewed, and parents are faced with an important choice.

On one hand, seeing photos of your children on social media, in newsletters and in emails can help give you a sense of engagement and perhaps peace of mind. It can help reassure you that your child is being properly cared for and having fun at school. On the other hand, the process of capturing and sharing photos can open your child up to a whole world of risk, including identity theft, cyberbullying and even stalking.

Remember, photo privacy isn’t simply a ‘nice to have’: it’s the law. Images of a person are considered personal information in the context of Australian privacy law at both national and state / territory levels. Parents should be well informed on their child’s rights, and fully comprehend the consequences of unfettered sharing of photos falling into the wrong hands.

So how can parents be as informed as possible when making that all-important decision on whether or not your child’s school can capture and share photos of them? The first step is to gain a better understanding of what correct photographic consent looks like.

This will help you push back if you’re asked to sign a consent form that could be considered in any way coercive. Educational institutions commonly issue a permission slip upon enrolment in a school or childcare centre, or on the very first day of term. But it’s worth remembering that not all permission slips are made equal.

Alarm bells should start ringing if your school asks you to sign a consent form that lasts forever. Consent must always have a use-by date because a lot can change in a short space of time. Schools should obtain fresh consent from parents and guardians regularly. Once a year ideally.

Similarly, push back if your child’s school attempts to ‘bundle’ consent into one form. You are not truly consenting if you’re being asked to tick one box that applies to every single situation. Instead, schools should provide the opportunity for parents to have greater choice and control over what the school can do with their child’s images.

Family needs and individual circumstances are constantly shifting, and a situation that was once okay may no longer be. Unless schools can consistently renew consent for specific situations, they risk exposing children to serious harm.

If you ever feel like consent is being taken from you in a way that could be considered coercive, make sure you speak up. If your school is banning children from enrolling or entering an event unless their parents have signed an ‘all-in’ consent form, for example, then they’re not collecting true consent.

Parents might feel pressured to sign the form, even if they have legitimate and serious reasons for not allowing their child to be photographed. Instead, schools should always make it clear that deciding not to give consent will have no bearing on your child’s success or participation in activities at school. With privacy such a hot regulatory topic these days, it is hoped that by 2020 the majority of Australian schools are in a better position to handle image consent through receiving the right level of advice and investing in tools to protect student images captured at school.

Finally, search for your child’s school’s Privacy Policy, collection notice and media use policies. These should be readily available for anyone to read, and their contents should be communicated to parents clearly, without the use of complicated jargon or legalese.

We cannot ignore the fact that schools are taking more and more photos and videos of our kids and sharing them online via channels such as Facebook and Instagram. It should never be assumed that this kind of sharing is okay with all parents all of the time. Childcare centres and schools must always collect consent, and parents should be as informed as possible about what consent truly means.


About Colin Anson, CEO and co-founder of pixevety:

Colin Anson is a digital entrepreneur, and the CEO and co-founder of child image protection and photo storage solution, pixevety