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Check with school, kids before posting videos of children online

by Yuichi Kawamoto

Reader A writes: “I’m a junior high and elementary school teacher, and I was wondering if you’d published any articles outlining the law regarding privacy policy and children in Japan?

“As part of a lesson, I’d like the children to make videos, which would then be posted online. Unfortunately, I don’t trust the school or board of education to have accurate knowledge of the issue, only to repeat traditional behavior or what they think policy probably is.”

In the past decade, protection of personal information has become an important social issue, and this has led to the introduction of numerous laws and ordinances up and down the country. Organizations that deal with personal information are obliged to obey various rules regarding its protection, and schools are no exception.

When it comes to protection of personal information in schools, however, there is no one law that covers all educational institutions. Schools in Japan are either run by private institutions, municipalities or quasi-governmental corporations; each obeys a different set of regulations, although their contents are all very similar.

The Personal Information Protection Law imposes a wide range of obligations on all organizations that have dealt with the data of more than 5,000 individuals in the past six months. Private schools meeting this condition need to abide by this law.

Similarly, schools run by quasi-governmental bodies (aka incorporated administrative agencies) are bound by the Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs. Schools run by municipalities follow a similar ordinance stipulated by their local government.

Smaller private schools are not regulated by any of the above legislation, but a guideline published by the education ministry requests that all schools fulfill similar obligations for the protection of private data.

Let us for now suppose that A’s school is a small state school (too small for the Personal Information Protection Law to apply) run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In this case, the school would have to comply with the Ordinance on Protection of Personal Information (no English version seems to be available online), which applies to various public institutions in Tokyo.

To name a few of its requirements, the statute stipulates that: the purpose of any operation handling personal information must be clarified (Article 4-1); personal information must not be obtained by inappropriate means such as fraud (Article 4-1); the operation, name of organization, purpose of the operation and data items involved must be registered; a definition of the group whose personal information is to be recorded must be disclosed and available for public inspection (Articles 5 and 6); and personal information must not be used for any other purpose (other than that declared above) or be disclosed to a third party (Article 10).

Details of how an organization can treat private information whose disclosure is required by law or local ordinance are usually publicized in the form of a privacy policy. The Personal Information Law explicitly requires that all schools fitting their criteria stipulate a policy, and articles 5 and 6 of the Tokyo ordinance practically require the same to all schools run by the metropolitan government. It’s likely that other local governments have issued similar statutes that apply to such schools in their respective areas.

Moving on to A’s question, video recording of school activities is considered as personal information if students in the recording can be identified. As the purpose of recording school activities is normally to keep records of activities within the school for educational reasons, posting them online is generally not included in their pre-defined and disclosed purpose. In addition, some schools have an article on providing personal information to a third party that explicitly states that no information will be disclosed without prior permission unless there is an urgent need.

Therefore if A wants to make the recording public, he must get prior permission from all students that can be identified in the recording. Moreover, even if posting on a website is included in the declared purpose, it is also necessary to make sure that it does not violate the portrait rights of the students in the recording, so either way prior permission will be essential to avoid any risk.

In conclusion, A should first check if any law or ordinance is applicable to the school, and see if there is a specific school privacy policy. A needs to check if the privacy policy prohibits online posting and, if it doesn’t, get permission from all the students in the recording before posting it on a website. If they are small children, it is safer to get permission from the parents as well as the students.

Please note that this advice is only applicable in cases where the online posting is done as an activity of the school itself. If A wants to post the recording on his personal site, he would need permission from the school. The school in turn would need to abide by their own privacy policy and get permission from the students in the recording before giving the OK.

Yuichi Kawamoto is an attorney with the Section of Legal Assistance for Foreigners at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving foreigners in the Tokyo area. TPLO lawyers address readers’ legal concerns on the second Tuesday of the month. Website: www. t-pblo.jp/slaf. Phone: (03) 5979-2880. Send questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp