Right to Privacy or Taken too far?

Just as we discussed last week in class whether or not we should know when and where the cameras are that can record us, it seems as though another local school is in the news for the reason we discussed. In today’s Boston Globe, there was an article about how Harvard University was secretly recording classrooms for a study on attendance.

With that, I wonder whether faculty and students here at UMass would have our opinions changed if we knew we were only being recorded for research purposes? And what exactly classifies research?

This news comes after it was reported in Spring 2013 that Harvard officials had reviewed thousands of student emails, which too had people “up in arms” about the decision. I just decided to share this article because it directly relates to the debate we were having last week in class and shows us that it is not only our school that is having these debates.

And if anyone has any additional thoughts to add, does the fact that Harvard is a private school affect the students right to know… or the university’s decision to not tell faculty and students of what they were doing?

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2 Responses to Right to Privacy or Taken too far?

  1. Here’s my two cents: If Harvard had told their students that they were filming them for research purposes, student behavior would change. And thus, Harvard would be conducting false research. It wouldn’t be their students’ natural behavior. Students missed/attended class as per usual because they had no idea that they were being filmed for research. That being said, however, that doesn’t mean I condone or condemn the purpose, but telling people they are being filmed does change something in people. People act differently in front of cameras, even if it is a minute difference. Whether or not that changes anything in our discussion, I don’t know, but I do think it’s important to note.

  2. sashline2016 says:

    The concept of public vs. private can be a difficult thing to wrap your mind around. We have been taught in our journalism classes that it is acceptable to videotape people without their permission or knowledge as long as they are within public domain. It is almost expected that you give up a certain level of privacy as soon as you step outside the confines of your home.

    Some female students living in the John Adams dorm in Southwest have had their privacy violated recently. You might have heard about these incidents through the emails sent out by UMPD or in the short article that the Collegian released. If you haven’t heard, there have been several incidents of a male resident using his iPhone to allegedly peep under stall doors and take photos or videos of female residents while they are showering.

    This invasive act is undoubtedly morally wrong. I imagine it would make any one of us feel uncomfortable to be peeped on in the shower. But, that is not the point I am trying to make. This is a public institution, right? Everyone is allowed on campus, excluding people with restraining orders or things of that sort. And we call the bathrooms in the dorms and in the academic buildings PUBLIC bathrooms, right? This term seems to be so ironic because we think of bathrooms anywhere as a place where we have at least some sense of privacy, and yet they are still public domain. Everyone is allowed access and though bathrooms are typically segregated by gender, some people – I’ve seen it – use the bathrooms interchangeably for whatever reason. So is a public bathroom a private space or not? Although I have seen signs that forbid photography or videotaping inside public bathrooms – indicating that they’re not quite as public as we thought – they’re not terribly common. If all bathrooms forbade photography the phenomenon that is the bathroom selfie would very well go up in flames. What I’m asking is, where is the line being drawn? Should photography and videotaping stop at the bathroom door? Or the stall door? Should we really call these bathrooms public spaces if they are meant to be private domain? A name like Private Community Bathroom seems a little like an oxymoron.

    Anyway, this difficult task of determining what is public and what is private can easily be crossed over into the Harvard example. Sure, Harvard is a private institution that caters to a highly selective group of people. However it seems almost natural to us to classify education centers as public spaces. Harvard students attend classes and live in dorms with people they don’t know or associate with, just like we do here at UMass. How is their private institution different from our public institution other than the irrelevant facts that tuition is more expensive and it is harder to get accepted. It is not as if they are constantly allowed privacy to do as they please. Quite the contrary. They go out in public every day, among faculty, staff and students, some of whom are strangers to them. It seems that Harvard is only private in the sense that its administrators are choosy about who they allow into its public domain.

    Furthermore, if Harvard was truly classified within private domain, wouldn’t videotaping on the premises be illegal?

    Perhaps we need more clear cut rules about what classifies public or private space.

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