EDITORIAL | Be mindful of data privacy in online learning

Recently, the National Privacy Commission reminded those conducting synchronous online classes to protect the data privacy of learners.

It released a series of recommended practices which schools may consider implementing, such as the creation of policies or guidelines on the use of cameras for the conduct of online classes.

The NPC said these should be issued “as may be reasonable and necessary to supervise and monitor learners and help educators in teaching. Opening of cameras during synchronous learning is not prohibited.”

The commission also encouraged the use of virtual backgrounds whenever possible to avoid displaying private living spaces.

“Consider equality and fairness in situations if learners experience technical difficulties, limited internet connection, device malfunctions, glitches on the online platforms and other analogous circumstances, and determine the alternative ways to monitor online classes and examinations in these situations,” it suggested.

“Schools should likewise improve existing student codes of conduct, handbooks, or similar internal policies or rules to adequately regulate student behavior during online classes. Schools must remind learners that the screen capturing, sharing, posting in social media, or any other similar kind of processing of chats, images, videos, and sounds involving their classmates and teachers during online classes may be subject to data privacy and other related regulations.”

As regards social media, the commission said schools must strictly enforce its social media policy. “Educators and other school personnel who may have collected personal data in their official capacity and/or during an official school activity must be reminded that the same cannot be used for personal purposes, i.e., posting in their personal social media accounts.”

It gave a go signal for the recording of online classes, for viewing by learners who missed a class, or for use in training purposes. However, it is best, the commission said, that learners and/or parents and guardians are informed beforehand of this processing activity.

“Submissions of assignments and other school requirements may be done through available online messaging applications on a case-to-case basis, considering the circumstances of the learner and/or educator. But this should be done in a manner where the submissions are sent directly to the appropriate teacher or school personnel and not to be made publicly available.”

Further, “educators and school personnel are reminded that communications involving personal data such as exam grades, results of assignments, report cards, reminders on unpaid school fees, etc. should be sent directly to the concerned recipient/s only and should never be posted in a manner that can be accessed or seen publicly.”

According to the commission, the policies should adhere to the general data privacy principles of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality.

They should also be considered in light of other child protection policies.

As always, the best interests of the learner shall be of paramount consideration.