Summer in Cyberspace: Protecting Your Kids’ Digital Privacy at Camp
Bug spray, swimsuit, and sunscreen. Check, check, and check. As parents, when we enroll our kids in summer camps, we expect to outfit them with classic gear to keep them safe and comfortable in those lazy, hazy days of summer. In today’s era of digital technologies integrated into learning environments, we should also be thinking about how we protect their data privacy.
In recent years, there has been robust public discussion among many stakeholders over how best to safeguard students’ digital data privacy in schools while still preserving ample space for educational and technological innovation. However, there has been less recognition of the need to accomplish these same goals when kids are enrolled in learning environments outside of schools. As non-school-based learning environments, such as after-school programs, become increasingly important in many kids’ lives, the need for this discussion among parents, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders also grows in importance. With summer now upon us, let’s focus on privacy considerations at summer camps from parents’ perspective.
Here are several key legal pointers to guide parents’ understanding of and decision-making around their kids’ digital data privacy at summer camps:
Summer camps that take place outside of such educational agencies or institutions are not bound by FERPA, so don’t assume that the camp in which your child is enrolled will be required by federal law to get your consent before it shares information about your child outside the camp.
FERPA may not apply. Many parents are familiar with FERPA, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires schools to obtain parental consent to share PII (personally identifiable information) from students’ education records unless a specific exception applies. However, FERPA and the accompanying federal regulations only apply when an educational agency or institution receives certain types of funds from the U.S. Department of Education. (For user-friendly FAQs about FERPA and other key federal student privacy laws, please take a look at this guide by Dalia Topelson Ritvo from the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School.) Summer camps that take place outside of such educational agencies or institutions are not bound by FERPA, so don’t assume that the camp in which your child is enrolled will be required by federal law to get your consent before it shares information about your child outside the camp. (Also please remember that student privacy laws and regulations for the specific state in which a camp is located may have greater requirements for privacy protection than FERPA does, and that other federal privacy laws, like HIPPA, may apply to specific categories of your child’s information.)
State contract law will be key. The legally permissible scope of what the camp can do with your child’s personal data will be shaped significantly by state contract law. When you fill out the many forms to enroll your child in camp, you will likely be supplied with forms that spell out—in varying degrees of detail—what data the camp will collect about your child and what it intends to do with that data. Camps that are interested in having an active social media or other digital marketing presence may request very broad rights of publicity for your child’s image. You will have the option of whether or not to agree to the specific contractual terms proposed by the camp. Don’t be afraid to ask camp administrators for more information about why they need certain types of data and what they intend to do with it. You may well find that the camp will be putting the data to uses that benefit your child, like creating a digital portfolio of your child’s work that showcases her or his talents. You also may well find that the camp wants to be able to promote its services online by using your child’s picture or other digital content. Before you click or sign “I agree,” think about whether you are comfortable agreeing for your child to become effectively a spokesperson for the camp—a place that you and your child may not have even had the chance to experience firsthand yet.
State juvenile justice law will apply to children’s activities at all camps. The existence of the “school-to-prison” pipeline through which kids’ misconduct at school results both in school discipline and engagement with the juvenile justice system is well documented. This pipeline disproportionately affects youth of color, youth with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Even though summer camps outside of the school system won’t have the same structures for school discipline, campers are still subject to the state laws that establish when misconduct constitutes a delinquency offense. Delinquency offenses are those actions that would be criminal if committed by adults but, since the juvenile justice system ostensibly attempts to rehabilitate youth rather than punish them, both the terminology and the underlying processes are different.
It’s easy for kids to make mischief and get themselves into trouble, especially when they’re exploring unfamiliar spaces. Add in the ingredient of unfamiliar technologies, and suddenly the camper who is given an iPad for the first time and creates a meme mocking a counselor or encouraging other campers to break camp rules could be facing a referral to the juvenile justice system. Make sure you understand how the camp you’re sending your child to responds to typical youth mischief, even when that mischief crosses the line: are they going to see a slammed door as grounds to call the local police to report disorderly conduct and refer your child for processing through the juvenile justice system? Also make sure you understand how the camp helps kids understand how to use new technologies they are encountering in responsible and constructive ways to minimize the risk that your child will get into tech-based trouble.
There is no “one size fits all” way for parents to approach summer camp privacy questions any more than there is one right way to roast a marshmallow to perfection. Each camp, just like each child and each family, will be unique. Hopefully, by thinking a bit up-front about privacy considerations, parents will put their kids in the best possible position to have good old-fashioned summer fun where what happens at summer camp (more or less) stays at summer camp!
Leah A. Plunkett is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where she works on the Student Privacy Initiative. She is also the Director of Academic Success & Associate Professor of Legal Skills at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. Leah researches and writes about how laws affect core concerns of people’s daily lives—education, family relationships, and financial stability. She is particularly interested in the transformations of learning spaces and styles that are occurring with new digital educational technologies.
Image: “North Cascades Newest Junior Rangers at Marblemount” by Park Ranger is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.