School threatens to mask children during performance

By | July 11, 2018

My son presented me with this note from his school this morning, asking for permission to allow photographs during the class performance at the circus.

Personal admission: Yes, I'm one of those annoying parents who refuses to sign forms giving the school carte blanc permissions for photographs of my child at any time to be taken wherever and for whatever the school wishes.

However, unlike most such permission forms, in which case all attendees are asked not to film or take photographs during the performance if just one parent refuses to grant permission, this note says that all kids whose parents don't sign the form and grant permission will be forced to wear a mask during the performance.

Now, this is a public performance, meaning that the school is not the data controller for any photos or videos taken. Therefore involved visitors would need to individually acquire permission to photograph and/or film the performance of all the kids involved, which I doubt a form issued by the school to parents of children can accomplish – added to the fact that regardless of whether or not they're masked, it may be possible to identify the kids even with their masks on the basis of some knowledge of when and where the event took place, their stature and appearance. Especially when your kids belong to an ethnic minority (you can count the number of kids in his school with the same hair and skin color as he has on one hand).

I wonder how many other schools have decided that it's time to start masking kids if their parents refuse to sign forms granting permission to allow their kids to be photographed?


20 thoughts on “School threatens to mask children during performance

  1. Douglas Creamer

    +John Lewis The situation reminds me of a saying, “when you ask stupid questions, don’t be surprised when you get stupid answers.”
    I think that telling parents that their kids will be masked is the schools stupid solution to an equally stupid and over the top privacy requirement.

    I agree with you that people should get off their phones and live in the moment, but I feel that a parents right to film their children’s school play far outweighs any possible privacy concerns.

    My sister lost her oldest son a few years back and those old videos and photos now mean the world to our family. So the notion that some of them should not have been captured just seems absurd to me.

  2. John Lewis

    +Douglas Creamer I said the example was extreme to make a point. You've missed that it was specifically an extreme example and you have inferred it's the only concern.

    Children have always had special rights to privacy because of their age and ability to protect themselves (see the fact that there is even a waiver being issues to start with as an example.)

    Perhaps the shows should simply be private, enjoyed in the moment.

    You seem to want me to advocate for the masks, I'm not.

  3. Douglas Creamer

    +John Lewis So your argument is that parents shouldn’t be allowed to record their children’s performances because one of the children “may” have a stalkers with web crawling facial recognition software that is trying to track them down…
    Why stop there? Why not force all children to wear burqas and hijabs so that would be child rapists won’t be so tempted to molest them?!?!

    Putting aside this ridiculousness for a moment, wouldn’t it be better if the parents of this poor child just didn’t let them participate in school events like this, or better yet, use all this fancy technology to track down these would be child murders/rapists and lock them away?

  4. Sophie Wrobel

    +Karsten Wegmeyer the permission forms actually got a lot worse since GDPR came into play. The old form asked you to tick off which information (first name, photo) could be published, and where (online and offline listed separately). The new form has no tick box options but requests permission to publish any combination of the kid's first name, last name, birth date, and photo online and offline in both local press and school homepage.

    The old form was great, and does exactly what you are looking for! However, I found the new form (which came out shortly after GDPR came into force) inacceptable, since it allows the school to post enough information for a random website visitor to steal my child's identity. I submitted a complaint to the school about the new form – the response was that the school was not planning to publish the kid's full name and birthdate online, but didn't cross-check what the form was actually requesting for. Unfortunately I had a lot of extra text written on that form, so I can't scan it in as easily… but if they don't update it to something acceptable by the end of summer vacation, I will be scanning the form in before I fill it out, as well as sending a formal complaint to the DPA.

    Which comes back to the original problem: the school needs to properly state their intent on their permission forms so that the form actually achieves what they want to achieve.

  5. Sophie Wrobel

    As I understand it, private filming / photographs of a publicly performed work of art should be acceptable according to the KUG if the film / photos captured the entire performance / scene as opposed to singling out particular kids, especially since the parents have already consented to the kids participating in the project. (Yes this is a public performance, meaning non-parents could also attend). Therefore there is no need to send a separate permission form threatening to mask the kids, or any reason to mask them at all under the circumstance.

    There are, however, a few cases in which permission would be required to capture footage:

    1) Someone wanted to publish the footage somewhere (e.g. online or in local press). In that case, they need permission from the parents indicating for what purpose the footage is going to be published. But since the school forgot to mention publishing as a use case, the permission letter has no effect on this and anyone wanting to publish the footage would need to obtain permission.

    2) The school itself wanted permission to take and publish footage. In this case, they forgot to mention that they (as organizer, not some random parent or other third party) wanted to take footage as well, and also forgot to mention that the footage was for publication purposes. Therefore, the permission letter has no effect on this point either.

    … and even if they masked the kids: how does that protect the identity of visible minorities? e.g. you'd be able to uniquely identify my son based on his skin color and approximate height, as he's the only asian-looking kid his age in the entire town. So if the intention is to protect the kids' identity, then the proposed measure is insufficient.

    So… I'm really not sure what exactly the permission form actually does. While the intent is correct, the actual effect misses the point.

  6. Douglas Creamer

    +John Lewis yes, yes, and yes.
    Exactly how many child rapists do you think are running around looking for that one child that they raped?
    In fact, if the guy was still on the lam, I would be tempted to use my child as bait to catch the sicko so that other parents and children wouldn't suffer the same fate.
    Because in a healthy society we care about everyone, not just our own…

    Yes you have a right to privacy, and the right to protect it, wear a mask, encrypt your correspondence, but that doesn't mean you can ban everyone from the Broadway Musical that you are staring in.

    The world is not out to get you…
    Disappointing, but true.

  7. John Lewis

    +Douglas Creamer I don't want to play the "think of the children" card, but think of the children "card".

    Allow me to go full on, worst case scenario for a moment. Would you allow your child to be filmed and put on Facebook if they had been the victim of a rape and the perpetrator was not in jail and their whereabouts were unknown? I mean that's kinda like a plot from a stupid suspense movie, but seriously, people have a right to privacy. Does that mean they have to wear a mask to be in their school play? Do they let anyone into the play? Is it public admittance or just for parents and family? What I'm getting at here is that there's an expectation of privacy in a child's life and perhaps in the information age that's not true anymore, but if complete strangers can't watch that school play live, why in hell should they be able to frame by frame it on Facebook?

  8. Douglas Creamer

    +John Lewis
    In the long run what is more important, a parents ability to re-watch their child in a school play.
    Or that "they", will index an unnamed child's face from a play in one of billions of videos posted on the internet and later use it for nefarious means?

    I'm not one to click the "recognize my face" option on any photo platforms, but this is just ridiculous.

  9. John Lewis

    +Douglas Creamer Facial recognition is used to track people. You can certainly understand that anything on the internet gets indexed. So your innocently posting your kid's school play on Facebook is exposing every child who is beside your kid to being indexed.

    Heck, you might even help by clicking a button asking "Is this little Timmy Brown?"

    But that's not legal.

  10. Douglas Creamer

    I don’t really understand the concern here. I thought we were beyond the age where people thought photographs stole peoples souls… ?

  11. John Lewis

    Oh, someone at that school certainly thinks they are clever.

    I can't read German, does the school provide the mask or can you provide one? Seems like an ideal time for some creative marketing. Or you can just put this symbol on a blank white mask:

    It means "fake".

  12. Karsten Wegmeyer

    +Sophie Wrobel we should ask our selfs wether we intend to live or stop in motion for anxiety! If we arrive in times where every step needs n sheets of papers to be filled out, we are silently killing ourselves!

    I don't see any problem in taking photos of groups of people while acting in more or less public. If you don't want to be public, stay at home! If you're in public surpise, you will be seen!

    I understand that there are incidents where one or another should not be seen. But our complaining for privacy gets absurd, when we enter public nets every day. It't the relation thats wrong and the schools reaction is absolut correct from my point of view!

  13. Sophie Wrobel

    +Karsten Wegmeyer The problem is that while the intent is okay, for what they are trying to achieve, it isn't enough.

    If the goal is to protect the identity of the child, they'd need to go beyond just a mask – based on hair and skin color and knowledge which school was presenting, it's enough to identify children who are in a visible racial minority (like my son), or have unique physical disposition (like some larger or really small-sized kids).

    If the goal is to get permission to allow photos to be taken, the permission form needs to be more explicit. e.g. Why will the photos will be taken (commercial? press? private use?)

  14. Sophie Wrobel

    +Sven Türpe There are many ways to solve the problem, but the masks are a particularly creative and hilarious one. 🙂

    Personally I believe the §22-23 KUG (Artist and copyright law) is much more pertinent than the GDPR, as the photographs indicated in the form are not taken by the school – the school is merely the organizer of the public performance, in which parents have already given consent for their children to participate in the project.

    GDPR is only helpful when chasing down data controllers and processors (i.e. the people who took the photographs / videos) – which in this case isn't the school.

    Either way, I think the school needs to get some legal counsel to check over their creative solutions and permission forms.

  15. Sven Türpe

    What happens if you invoke your child's right to recitification (Art. 16 GDPR) and argue that a mask instead of their natural face would constitute incomplete personal data? You may also threaten to question the accuracy of everyone's data with consequences according to Art. 18 GDPR. Finally, forcing a person to wear a mask on a photo might be considered data processing according to Art. 4 (2) GDPR (“adaptation or alteration”).

    In other words, play their game, but humiliate them by playing two or three levels above theirs. They started the trolling so they deserve it.


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