Photographs and recordings

This bulletin examines the application of privacy law to photographs, video and sound recordings obtained and held by the department. PB05 This bulletin last revised June 2020.

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Privacy law

The Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (PPIP Act) identifies principles which the department must follow when handling personal information. These principles cover collection, use, accuracy, alteration, security and disclosure of personal information.
"Personal information" includes photographic images, videos and sound recordings where an individual can be identified or his or her identity is reasonably apparent from the image or sound recording.
Further information about the department’s obligations under privacy law can be found in privacy bulletin Managing personal and health information and on the website of the Information Privacy Commission.

School photographers

It is common practice for schools to engage a photographic company to take student and staff photographs each year and to record student participation in school activities.
The points below should be taken into consideration when engaging a photographic company.

  • Most parents/carers deal directly with the photographic company when ordering student photographs
  • Schools need to check that the photographic company provides parents/carers with information about how they will handle the personal information they collect from students and parents/carers. This should include the following:
  • identifying the purpose for which the company is collecting the images and information and confirming that the information will only be used for that purpose
  • where the information and images will be stored
  • when no photographs are purchased or after a specific time has elapsed, all images and information will be destroyed
  • student images will not be used for promotional purposes (e.g. in shopfronts or web-sites) or disclosed to any other body without the prior written permission of the individuals depicted or their parent/carer.
  • In the case where the company is not directly in contact with parents, schools should not be providing any student information to the company unless there is parental consent.

School access to student photographs

Taken by the photographic company

When informing parents of the details of the photographic company and the date of the event you should advise them that:

  • the school intends to obtain a copy of each class and student photograph for the purposes of maintaining historical and current school records and may use them to identify students in cases of emergency
  • photographs will be held securely at school
  • photographs will be retained and disposed of in accordance with NSW privacy legislation and the State Records Act 1998
  • parents/carers can contact the school if they wish to access the photographs and if they have concerns about the school obtaining and/or retaining their child’s photograph.

On a personal device such as a staff member’s phone

As a general rule, schools should obtain consent before photographing or videoing students. When staff take photographs and video recordings at school excursions and school events, they should use a school device. If a personal device is used the photographs should be uploaded to a school device and deleted from the personal device as soon as reasonably practicable. That deletion must include any cloud backups the personal phone has made.
Parents who attend excursions should be discouraged from taking photos and video recordings. Schools need to communicate to parents that if they choose to publish photos and recordings of their own children participating in school events, images and videos of other children should not be displayed.

School recording of events

Where school events (e.g. concerts, sports carnivals etc.) are to be video recorded by the school, parents, guardians and caregivers should be notified in advance and given the opportunity to not have their child included in the video if they so wish.
It may be difficult in some situations, such as videoing a race at a sports carnival, to remove students from a recording. Schools should consult with parent/caregivers in these circumstances. It may be possible to limit distribution of the video or pixilate the student’s image.
While nothing in the PPIP Act prevents parents/carers taking photographs or videos of school events, schools need to advise parent/carers to consult with parents of other students captured in the footage before displaying it on social media or other publicly accessible forums.

Video recording and taking photos of incidents at school

As a general rule photographing or videoing students in class, the playground or when participating in school events should not occur without consent.
There may be some instances when staff consider it necessary to take photographs or video recordings of an incident involving student/s engaged in potentially harmful or aggressive behaviour. This should only occur if it is considered necessary to maintain the safety and welfare of students and/or staff. There may be instances where parents have consented to the school photographing or videoing their child as part of a student behaviour plan.
If images are captured on a staff member’s personal device the staff member must provide the footage to the Principal as soon as practicable and delete it from their device as soon as reasonably practicable

School yearbooks and newsletters

Schools should seek permission from students and/or parents/carers before publishing student photographs or other personal information in any school produced publication. While these publications are intended to be restricted to the school community their contents may easily be disclosed to people outside of this cohort.
Schools can use a general permission (see the link below) which identifies each school publication in which student photographs will appear and enable parents/carers the opportunity to consent or object to each. There are however circumstances under which student permission should be obtained:

  • where a student is living independently – see legal issues bulletin Students under 18 living independently .LIB53
  • when senior student’s images are being used in a publication such as in their yearbook
  • where for example a high school student’s face is proximately featured in a school related publication, in circumstances where the high school student may object to the publication.

It is good practice to renew the general permission each year. The permission to publish link is found under communication and engagement.

Publication with an audience beyond the school community

Where student personal information is to be broadcast widely in print or electronic media or used in promotional material about the department the student and/or parent/carer consent should be obtained for the specific purpose. The consent should be accompanied by a privacy collection notice informing students and/or parents/carers of:

  • the purpose for which the information is being collected and how it will be used
  • the intended recipients, i.e. where it will be displayed, broadcast etc
  • whether students must participate and any adverse consequences if not participating
  • how the information will be stored
  • who to contact to access the information.

The template privacy collection notice may be used.
Where a third party such as a media outlet is to film or collect any form of student personal information, schools must obtain parent/carer consent and review the third party’s privacy collection notice.

Common questions

CCT footage

Who is allowed to view footage from the school’s security cameras? This has come to light with an appeal against a suspension and our decision being based on viewing the footage from the cameras. Is the parent or child allowed access to the footage, particularly when the footage involves other children?
Images of students captured by CCTV cameras is personal information. If CCTV footage is used as evidence in a disciplinary matter involving a student then the student and their parents should be allowed to view the evidence (but not be provided a copy). The viewing should be contained to the specific incident. They should be given time to consider the footage and ask any questions about it. If other students are involved it may not be possible or necessary to protect their identities. Each incident should be considered on a case by case basis and legal advice sought if required. It may be necessary to seek the permission of other student/parents or pixilate images that identify other students.

Private companies asking to use photos and videos of students

A local developer would like to take photos of a couple of children and use them in some promotional material, we are a new school build in the development, the parents have provided permission is there any issue with agreeing to this?
This is an issue that arises when a company contributes to the school in some way and then requests that images of the school children engaging in the activity be taken by the company for promotional purposes. Generally the department does not support profit making companies utilising images of departmental buildings or children in school uniform. It is suggested that companies hire child actors and create uniforms to advertise and promote their products. However there may be circumstances under which the school may wish to support a company or facilitate collaboration with a company. In these cases the Media Unit and Business Engagement and Development (who deal with sponsorship) will need to be contacted.
The release form signed off by the parents and the school would be need to be designed with the department’s and the student’s interest in mind. In particular it should be made clear that the images are not be used for any other purpose. Legal advice should be sought regarding any release documents prior to them being provided to parents to consider.

Publicity photos redaction

If a student is in a photo without publicity consent can we just put a block sticker over the top in published photos?
Yes, if there is no consent to publish then all information regarding the identity of the student needs to be removed. Ideally this can be done by cropping the photo but if the student is central to the image, then their identifying features need to be blurred, blocked out or pixilated.

Archival photos

I want to publish some archival photos as part of my school's 75th year celebration. Do I require permission and if so how would I obtain it, to publish images of unknown people from black and white days of years gone by? In my ideal world it would be a gallery on the school website of images over the decades.
Old photos either of students or staff collected by the school over the years are personal information (if a person’s identity can be ascertained from the photo). They are therefore subject to privacy legislation regulating their use and disclosure. They are not personal information if the individual has been dead for 30 years of if the information can be found in a publicly available publication.

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