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Penny Booth: Privacy and 'privacy'?

Date:28 MAR 2011

Penny BoothIt is interesting to hear about the education bill which is set to become law later this year. All over the press this past weekend, I am sure it is not going away and the teaching unions are not altogether happy about the situation. The proposals include wide powers for teachers / schools to confiscate mobile phones (‘thank God!' I hear) and even to read and delete material found on them. Oh dear...

Now, mobile phones can be very useful, but they can be dangerous. They allow parents to keep in touch with their children, lifts to be arranged, and anxiety to be reduced. They keep people in touch with each other. Their complexities allow life to be enjoyed and broadened. All to the good, say I.

However, who can have missed the reports of mobile phones being used by school-age children to assist cyber-bullying (why ‘cyber'? It makes it no better - this is just bullying by one means of another and foul whatever the method) and to disrupt normal classroom activity in schools? Well, if these devices are being used to assist bullying or disrupt the process of education then allowing them to be switched on during the day in school is just silly. ‘Instant everything' is to blame, of course, and not everything is actually ‘instant', including the gratification. If they disrupt education then it should be stopped. If children must take mobile phones into school do they need them on during the day when they are supposed to be in the care of adult professionals helping them to focus on education rather than instant communication and entertainment via a mobile phone? Not when still a minor, surely? Arguably, not for anyone, at any time. They could simply be a distraction after the school day starts until it comes to an end. There must be a way of allowing children to possess mobile phones but not have them on at all during the school day.

However - I really don't think I like the idea of teachers being able to examine the content of the mobile phone. These devices are more than just a means of ‘communication' - they are not the phones of old. They can retain thousands of photographs and information stored may be secure or simply private. We should respect privacy, if at all possible. A mobile phone is only for looking at when a crime is suspected. If they are used for disruption, let us remove the disruptive element; if they are suspected of being used in the commission of a crime the people to look at the contents are called ‘police'. It is not the job of the teacher and let's stop messing about - if a crime is suspected, get the police involved and let our schools deal with education.

By the way - it isn't just in schools where mobile phones (and other electronic devices) are used to disrupt what has been for some time regarded as normal activity for the location. Whilst one can excuse occasional forgetfulness when the random silly ring-tone startles the meeting or class (in work, school or university) they should simply be switched off in some localities and during some activities. What we have to worry about now are the laptops (often ‘mini' in everything but the potential for disruption) appearing everywhere. Their appropriate and proper use is as an aid to the meeting or the education process, but improper use is simply another distraction. I know because I have seen it happen. Please, none of the ‘make it interesting and they won't go to different sites' - some things that have to be dealt with or taught may not be scintillating and most do not compete well with the attractions of Facebook, Twitter and a myriad of other www addresses accessible from your laptop bought to aid your education (or your access to material for your job). They still, however, have to be taught, and interruptions via random seeking-lustily-after-instant-entertainment, frankly, just plain rudeness.

It is sad to learn of a particular couple expecting a baby - why? Usually it is something nice to hear about except this couple are related - father and daughter. A woman tracked down her long-lost father in the US (age difference was only 18) and felt what was described as an instant physical attraction. The woman is now pregnant with her father's child. I really don't think that claims of something called ‘Genetic Sexual Attraction' are quite sufficient to explain this situation. We are human beings. Incest is illegal throughout the modern world for very good reason - it disrupts familial relationships, causes untold damage for the children and adults hit by the emotional ‘fall-out' and increases exponentially the risks of inherited conditions. It cannot be right by any modern thinking, and is no excuse for giving in to what appears to be a very strange display of lust. If normal sexual aversion in siblings and parent-child relationships have not developed and been ‘switched off' because of a lack of childhood spent together, then human control must be switched on as there are too many bad consequences to this - and there are no excuses.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal. 

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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