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School mobile phone ban mooted

BBC Scotland

Schools in West Lothian could become the first in Scotland to rule out mobile phone cameras in the playground if council leaders agree to a ban.

There is concern over the use of mobile phone cameras to take pictures of pupils without their permission.

The ban is being proposed in the interests of "safety, security and well-being". Council deputy leader Willie Dunn said the ban would deal with the challenge of new technology.

"We are proactive in addressing this issue in the light of new mobile phone technology and we believe we are acting responsibly," he said.

"Parents and children have a right to know what pictures are being taken of them and how they are being used" said a West Lothian Council spokeswoman

A rush to legislation is always worrying, and on this particular issue we seem to have a poor mix of hasty decision making and ill-informed thinking. That and a determination to resist progress that would make Canute proud.

You don't need to be that smart to see that miniature cameras with high speed internet access will soon be widely available. And banning something that you can't see is going to be awfully hard. And how do they propose to distinguish between a phone and a camera? A camera and a pendant? Convergence will make these sort of judgements rather fine...

Secondly, it will only take one instance where a child is held in danger because they weren't allowed a phone for this "rule" to look pretty shortsighted. Think of all the problems we have seen on exposed hills, on overseas trips, etc. Think of Columbine. What phones will now be available to summon help? Or are West Lothian seriously planning to maintain a list of "acceptable" phones - and some means to weed out those that fail to meet the "standard".

Thirdly, to whom will this "ban" apply. Will we allow teachers to carry camera phones? Head teachers? Workmen? Visitors? Who really poses the greatest threat to children: their fellows or their caretaker? Society needs to accept that privacy does not often serve it well. And privacy in public spaces is a contradiction that West Lothian might care to reflect upon.

Finally, schools have a duty to support the technology their pupils bring to school. To use it to best effect. To provide educational services, learning opportunities, administrative support through that technology. There is enormous value in encouraging children to record, photograph and film their work, their activities, their art and their lives. So just maybe that camera phone is an opportunity rather than a threat.

I think what West Lothian really wanted to address is a "behavioural" issue rather than a technological one. And that will require a rather more thoughtful approach than a simple ban.

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