Privacy — from principles to practice

'Privacy — from principles to practice.' That's the theme of this year's Privacy Week and a great catalyst to consider all things privacy-related in your school library.

Image of computer code on screen, including the words 'private -> /home/encrypted'
Hacking by joffi. CC0 1.0

Privacy in focus

The collection and use of personal information is currently a topic of interest for many users of social media. For most of May 2018, there is a focus on privacy in New Zealand/Aotearoa and abroad:

  • 1–7 May is Choose Privacy Week, led by the American Library Association, with this year's theme being: 'Big data is watching you'.
  • 7–11 May 2018 is Privacy Week in New Zealand/Aotearoa, and the theme is: 'Privacy: From principles to practice'.
  • 13–19 May is Privacy Awareness Week for the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities, focusing on the theme: 'Value personal data, it's worth protecting'.

This represents an excellent basis to think about and plan your library's approach to privacy. You could:

  • conduct a privacy audit/health check — identify your current privacy policies and practices and identify what may need attention or improvement
  • strengthen your understanding of privacy principles
  • update your privacy policies and practices — including a privacy statement
  • look for opportunities to educate students and staff about privacy.

Privacy principles

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner provides a wealth of information and guidance about privacy and the Privacy Act. This reference below is their thumbnail sketch of New Zealand's privacy principles:

Principle 1, Principle 2, Principle 3 and Principle 4 govern the collection of personal information. This includes the reasons why personal information may be collected, where it may be collected from, and how it is collected.

Principle 5 governs the way personal information is stored. It is designed to protect personal information from unauthorised use or disclosure.

Principle 6 gives individuals the right to access information about themselves.

Principle 7 gives individuals the right to correct information about themselves.

Principle 8 and Principle 9, Principle 10 and Principle 11 place restrictions on how people and organisations can use or disclose personal information. These include ensuring information is accurate and up-to-date, and that it isn't improperly disclosed.

Principle 12 governs how 'unique identifiers' — such as IRD numbers, bank client numbers, driver's licence and passport numbers — can be used.

Privacy principles, Office of the Privacy Commissioner

It is important to have proper purposes, processes, and protocols when collecting, storing, accessing, correcting, using, or disclosing personal information in your school library.

Libraries recognize that privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association ... and protecting user privacy has long been an integral part of libraries’ work and mission.
Choose privacy week program/resource guide, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom

Users of your school library should be guaranteed confidentiality in their reading interests and research habits.

A balancing act

The benefits of evidence-based practice must be balanced against privacy requirements.

Evidence-based practice benefits a school library. It allows you to know more about best-practice, students, staff, and the community. It can form the basis of improvements to what collections and services you offer. Dr Ross Todd, of Rutgers University Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL), describes 3 dimensions of evidence-based practice in school libraries:

  • evidence for practice — use existing research to identify best practices and inform changes in practice
  • evidence in practice — draw on the knowledge and professional experience of your library staff
  • evidence of practice — focus on finding the real results of what school libraries do.

Evidence-based practice and why it matters

Both evidence in practice and evidence of practice require collection, storage, and use of personal data. However, in the library, this must be balanced with the need to uphold privacy.

As the trend towards more 'personalised' learning continues, this will require more specific and identifiable information about individuals to be gathered, analysed, and acted upon. Privacy considerations then become increasingly important.

Online resources and privacy

Providing access to a quality online collection can help students discover and learn from a wide range of resources while increasing their breadth of understanding. It is important to engage with students, teachers, and parents to ensure that the online environment students access at school:

  • enables intellectual freedom and curiosity
  • includes quality, trustworthy resources that support learning
  • is safe and protects the privacy of individuals.

It is important that when striving to make library improvements you don't compromise the privacy of individuals — staff or students.

Putting privacy into action

Think about privacy as a part of library leadership and management. The following resources for school leaders, library staff, and teachers are useful:

  • Privacy in schools — a comprehensive guide by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner which outlines privacy principles, how they apply to schools, and some practical advice for applying them.
  • Managing privacy issues — an overview of the rights and responsibilities of school leaders regarding privacy from the Ministry of Education.
  • Sharing personal information in Communities of Learning/ Kāhui Ako — guidance from the Ministry of Education about sharing personal information between schools in a Community of Learning/ Kāhui Ako and the important steps you need to take to ensure privacy is upheld.
  • Choose privacy week program/resource guide a detailed resource from the American Library Association about privacy matters and activities to use in the library and classroom.

Privacy and digital citizenship

Privacy and security of personal information is a key aspect of digital citizenship. Your library can contribute to the development of digital citizenship through its collections, services, and staff. Some specific resources to develop students understanding of privacy include:

  • OWLS – Wise words on privacy — 24 teaching and learning modules from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in conjunction with Netsafe.
  • YouthLaw — Privacy — key information about privacy for young people in New Zealand/Aotearoa.
  • Childnet International — information for primary and secondary students about how to make the internet a great and safe place.

Privacy in May and beyond

From data to education, consider how you can bring privacy principles and practice to the fore in May and beyond.

By Samuel Beyer

Samuel is the Senior Specialist (Online Learning) for Services to Schools.

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