Children’s privacy online: setting the boundaries by Jess Osmond

Family Law|October 2nd 2017

Earlier this year we opened our doors to University of Winchester’s brightest law students and gave them the opportunity to spend time with senior solicitor Jennifer Williamson. She told them all about life in a national family law firm. These same aspiring solicitors were also invited to submit articles for our blog. This was a chance for them to be published online and boost their online profiles. We received some strong submissions but, in the end, narrowed the field down to two. The runner-up was published on Friday, and this is the winning entry.

Children’s rights with the media

The selfie culture of today has only encouraged the media frenzy of needing to know the entirety of a celebrity’s life. Many parents, including the famous, often shower the world with pictures of their new child. This is lovely and we all try to find the pictures of the beautiful new-born, but what consideration is taken to the wishes of that child in ten, 15 or 20 years’ time when they find photos of their entire childhood all over media and there is no opportunity for a private life?

What do the children think?

Famous parents often allow their children’s photos to be all over social media, some even create accounts especially for them. When does a child get a say as to whether they wish for their whole future to be plastered online for all to read? What good comes from the world knowing the entirety of a new born baby’s daily routine? The child will grow up to be able to look back on social media and most likely find some sort of article describing every nappy change until the age of two. Is that really what anyone would want for themselves?

What’s the law?

Does the law allow too much room for this? There are age restrictions based on joining social media websites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter but there seems to be no limit to the age of children that can be put all over it. These celebrities have hundreds of followers and fans that can see everything they post. Where is the respect of privacy for the child? There have been many cases in law such as Murray v Big Pictures Limited in the Court of Appeal, that have expressed the opinion that children should have some level of protection from media just because they have famous parents, however this doesn’t cover the parents themselves subjecting their own children to the public eye.

Parents posting pictures themselves

Will there become a day in the UK when a child brings a claim against their own parents in respect to privacy of images or will the law protect this? Could the claim come under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the right to a private family life, or would this be too broad? After all, it is the ‘private family life’ of the parents too. This could be the way the claim is brought but with no previous precedent on the matter it will be a waiting game to see when someone brings a claim of this nature.

Who holds the photo rights?

The rights to the photos are in fact held by the person who took the photo. In this case the parents. Does this mean there is no accountability for what parents choose to publish about their children for the world to see? Should there be a law in place requiring certain things such as permission of photos before they can be posted online. These children one day do have to grow up and see their whole childhood, all elements from embarrassing to proud moments spread all over the internet.

Other European Countries

Many other countries across Europe have much tighter laws on this level of privacy than the UK. As discussed by family law experts French parents are much more at risk of legal proceedings if they publish photos of their own children online without consent. The risk of being fined up to £35,000 in damages or a year in prison is the reality. The UK has no law specifically in regards to privacy. Is this something that needs to be developed in the new online culture to protect children?

An 18 year-old girl in Austria is currently in the middle or suing her parents for posting hundreds of photos of her online as a child. The case it set to be decided in November and could be the change that has been expected to come for some time. Parents in France and maybe soon even Austria can be held accountable for images of their own children they are posting online.  There is no case as of yet with a famous parent and so we will not know how this will pan out until it happens.

There needs to be some level of protection for defenceless children online. These children of famous parents can often be the subject of offensive and negative comments online and they will grow up reading these, which could negatively affect their psychological health. Children need to be protected by the law and if this means that law needs to be made to prevent online images then so be it.

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(2)

  1. D says:

    Slightly Daily Mail response to it. In reality there’s a massive impact on whether it’s public or not depending on privacy settings. Social media might be used to share family holiday snaps.. etc between immediate family, grandparents etc. that’s very different to publicly ‘publishing’ for all to see.

  2. Holly LC says:

    This is such an interesting topic! Agree with your stance on it, too, I’ve thought so many times when i see people instagramming their toddlers every day, which side of right and wrong that falls under, and what the child would want if they had a choice. Really interestings points, enjoyed reading it! 🙂

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