Can We Reasonably Expect Privacy in a Public Space?

18 May

I had a note from a friend on my Facebook page last night.  I had filmed several segments of a concert in our church auditorium.  The concert was the spring concert put on by our church’s day school.  I had filmed from the balcony on my iPad.  

My friend took exception to me filming without getting the express permission of every parent whose child was on that stage (I filmed middle school and high school students).

Rather than answer her back on my FB page, where it could be perceived as personal, I wanted to explore the topic here.  Social media has put this one right in our faces.  What is the expectation for privacy in a public space?  Is it the same as the expectation of privacy in our homes?

In short, no.  Court ruling after court ruling has said that.  If I am in a mall, I can be filmed by closed circuit cameras all around me.  The same with being outside on some streets.  Part of how the Boston bombing suspects were identified involved a closed circuit camera mounted on the outside of a department store.  Let’s not even get into live webcams mounted all over cities.  Closed circuit cameras make a permanent enough record!!!

If my minor child were to be accused of shoplifting in a store with closed circuit cameras, you can bet they would retrieve the film that contained his images to see whether they could catch him in the act.  Such film could be used in court against him, too.

So, no, no reasonable expectation of privacy when you leave your home for a public place.  Home is different.  A public place is, well, public.

Now, that said, there can be individual policies in various places, subject to the owner of that place or the person in charge.  I checked whether our church or day school has such a policy against filming events.  They do not.  It would be rather difficult to enforce.  A lot of the grandmas who attend these concerts don’t belong to our church.  I don’t think they would pay attention to an announcement that prohibited them from filming on their iPhones or posting their videos on FB for other family members and friends to see.

In fact, people were filming all around me last night, in most cases much closer to the kids than from the balcony.  My videos just happened to be the ones my friend saw on FB.

And that brings us to a final consideration, especially when policies are being considered against filming at church/school events:  the policy, if there is one, must be enforced even-handedly.

The former principal of our day school was probably the one who instituted the filming and sharing of pictures and videos at concerts, as he was also the director of most school choirs.  Some of our academy’s concerts have even wound up on Youtube.

So, our pastor, who emphasizes that we are all one body, whether we have children at the day school, in public school, homeschooled, or grown, would usually not separate between groups like “those who know all the students” and “grandmas who are only filming one child but the rest happen to be in the picture.”  And I am guessing he probably would not send that grandma after 20 different parents, whom she doesn’t know, to get permission to post the video with her grandchild in it.  

Tends to divide the Body of Christ, if you make different rules for different folks, doesn’t it?

Actually, I would probably suggest that our day school, and any other group involving minors who perform publicly, just have parents sign a blanket statement at the beginning of the schoolyear that they hold harmless all filming of concerts and other public events with their child in participation.  

Their kids are going to show up on someone else’s video.  It is gonna happen.

One final example of how not to do things:  a very private person, a young man in fact, approached me after my son’s graduation ceremony last year and said he didn’t want any pictures of himself to be on my FB page.  Big problem with that:  he was in the background of the best picture taken of my son!!!  He was in about one-fourth of the pictures taken at the ceremony because he came with one of the speakers.  

We would have had to ask our photographer (who gave us the pictures as a gift) to do some massive editing of the photos before I could publish them anywhere or even give them to family.

I appealed to the young man to be content with me not tagging him on FB (putting his name on his picture).  I asked him to agree to be the anonymous person behind Joey in many of the shots . . . and he agreed.

If he had not, it would have been very, very difficult for us.

I also didn’t want to be the one to tell him that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy when he came to a ceremony and stood around with the honoree for almost half the time he was there.

Common sense dictates this:  if you don’t want to be in the pictures, it is up to you to remove yourself from standing right next to the graduate.  

Ya know? 


One Response to “Can We Reasonably Expect Privacy in a Public Space?”

  1. Cara May 18, 2013 at 4:56 PM #

    You are not the only one who has posted clips from programs….former principle and current school faculty do it as well. If it were a policy put in place prior to this and followed by all not to post clips of performances or field trips etc that would be different but one person cannot be singled out apart from many others who do the same. I dont like strangers taking a sharing pics of my kids in fact I have been known during swim lessons etc to ask people to delete pics with my kids in them but this is different.

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