Digital Privacy & Safety in Remote Aboriginal Communities


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  • This discussion revolves mainly around safety and privacy in an 'on-line' environment. That includes using the internet for activities such as email, online banking or shopping, and on-line research or browsing. Perhaps most importantly for our students, it also includes social networking sites such as facebook or other more specialised sites such as flikr or where personal information, images and documents can be uploaded to the net for others to view. Proper protection of private information and controlling who has access to this information increases on-line safety, as do monitoring and controlling who contacts you and who you contact. In the context of remote Aboriginal communities, 'privacy' extends to the protection of traditional knowledge and respecting customs around kinship avoidance and reproduction of images of deceased persons . Certain knowledge or images are not for public display; contact, perhaps even 'cyber-contact', between certain relatives is minimised (for example post-pubescent brothers and sisters); and the names and images of deceased people should not be publicly used.
  • Safety and privacy work two ways. Teenagers want privacy (Boyd & Marwick, 2011) but also are curious about others. Particularly where these concepts are new, as in remote areas, students need to avoid being both victim and perpetrator of unacceptable 'digital behaviour'. This means n ot sharing 'private' information and actively protecting it. In the remote context it means not sharing traditional knowledge without permission, and not attempting to get access to other people's 'private' information.
  • Just as CB radio conversations in the past were seen as 'public space' one reason why privacy and safety issues may not worry remote Aboriginal students is the perceived 'fit' between the networked nature of the net and traditional means of sharing and spreading knowledge. The concern is that traditional systems of controlling who had access to what information are not followed by the wider community, and applied originally to a more traditional life. These systems may be inadequate to guide young students in who should have access to their digital information and identity. Without appropriate understanding the internet may present a huge risk to privacy and safety, and possibly the misappropriation of traditional knowledge.
  • Technological, financial, linguistic and cultural factors have limited internet access in remote homes. Public access may be available at Community Resource Centres or schools. Older generations therefore have no or very little experience with the net in remote communities. In Wadeye and elsewhere, remote students have the opportunity more and more to participate in hands-on digital media production through visiting workshops or dedicated facilities in the school. In this way they develop skills in digital film and movie production and editing, with various amounts of support and scaffolding from the workshop facilitator or school staff. However these tend to be practical and technical skills. The concepts of digital citizenship in a global, 'connected' context are not developed.
  • Physical and cultural remotenes can make real life consequences of on-line activities hard to comprehend or accept. The contrast between traditional and 'western' styles of knowledge creation and sharing can make the divide between school life and 'real' life seem absolute, making digital actions seem to have no consequences. This may also lead to pressure from family to share digital identity and knowledge, including PINs, passwords, images and emails.
  • The extent of 'predatory' behaviour from within or outside the community, 'sexting' and cyber-bullying is unknown. 'Normal' bullying and gang violence can be an an issue in Wadeye and other remote schools, as can sexual abuse within the community. Mobile phones are now increasingly used by youth. These issues cannot be ignored. A major concern should be the potential for the internet and mobile phones to be used to make inappropriate contact with children. This is a sensitive issue that will need to be discussed by the school staff and local community, and appropriate education programs developed for the children. Existing resources could be used as a basis and adapted to local needs.
  • Privacy is a culturally relative term, and this is not the place to investigate fully Aboriginal notions of privacy. (See Stanner (n.d.) for a discussion of 'traditional' aboriginal privacy and Dunbar et al. (2011) for a more modern discussion of similar issues in indigenous Canadian communities). However it is to be expected that notions of privacy will differ between all of the following groups: 'western' teachers, 'western' teenagers, remote Aboriginal elders, families and students. Schools accept that traditional knowledge may be kept private, and kinship rules of avoidance respected, but can we, and Education Departments, accept that 'personal' information such as PINs and passwords may not be routinely kept private among family in remote communities?
  • Several remote communities have developed sophisticated websites that both present the community to the world as they wish to be seen, and also protect sensitive information, images and stories. Others have a less developed web presence that has likely been created with little or no indigenous input or consultation. Such websites thus remove control of the community's digital identity from their hands. By studying these websites students can appreciate how to project and control a sophisticated and interesting web identity while protecting privacy and avoiding unwanted digital behaviour. Misappropriation of indigenous knowledge can thus be minimised or avoided (Nathan, 2000).
  • Input is required from all staff in order to incorporate the differing understandings of privacy, while still meeting any Department requirements and community expectations. Refer to the SA Education Department policy (the state with the most similar 'remote issues' as the NT) as the NT has yet to release one.
  • A policy/course explaining why online privacy and safety matter. These websites are examples of resources already available to use and adapt for this purpose. The first is a site that is attractive and engaging to teenagers, specifically about being aware of the possible dangers of chat rooms and mobile phones. The second provides links to many other resources from around the country. Unfortunately I could find no resource specifically designed for remote Aboriginal students. I did however find a series of resources designed 'for students with special needs' (the third website listed). A large proportion of our students are officially special needs students, and the consideration given in the planning of these resources to different learning needs would make them more easily adapted to our students than other 'mainstream' resources. Community awareness raising could be arranged through the Wadeye Information Resource Centre, BRACS radio and television, and after hours courses for young adults. The web resources mentioned above could be explored for use here. By exploring other remote communities' web presence students can come to see how easy it is to find any info that goes on the web and how important it is to have control over who can access it.
  • REFERENCES Australian Communications and Media Authority. (2011). Cybernetrix. Available at Australian Communications and Media Authority (2011).Cybersmart Access. Available at Boyd, D. & Marwick, A. (2011) Social privacy in networked publics: teens' attitudes, practices and strategies. Available at Black, R. & Atkinson, J. (2007). Addressing the digital divide in rural Australia. Paper presented at the Sic erat in fatis (so it was fated) conference, Coffs Harbour. Available at Cassidy, M. (2007). Few Aboriginal Digital Citizens 40 years after referendum. Eureka Street 17 (10). Available at ...continued on following slide notes
  • Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Government of Australia. (2011). Cybersafety education. Available at Kral, I. (2010). Plugged in: Remote Australian indigenous youth and digital c. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Working Paper 69. Available at Kral, I. (2011). Youth media as cultural practice: Remote Indigenous youth speaking out loud. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2011(1), 4-16. Nathan, D. (2000). Plugging in indigenous knowledge: connections and innovations. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1 & 2. . 39 – 47. Stanner, W. (n.d.) Privacy and the aboriginal people. Available at Tafler, D. (2000). The use of electronic media in remote communities. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1 & 2. pp. 27 – 38. Vis-Dunbar, M., Williams, J. & Weber Jahnke, J. (2011). Indigenous and community based notions of privacy. Available at
  • Digital Privacy & Safety in Remote Aboriginal Communities

    1. 1. Digital Privacy & Safety in Remote Aboriginal Communities image used under Creative Commons Reuse Licence
    2. 2. Cyber-Safety? Privacy? ID theft, cyber bullying, financial scams, inappropriate images, suggestions or contact Victim OR Perpetrator Private information Traditional knowledge
    3. 3. Digital media in remote communities  Public conversation  CB Radios open to all  Limited technical  BRACS & early web training to a few / sites Outside control  Digital collection in  Contents/access Wadeye Information controlled by Resource centre community  E-mail, facebook and  A natural fit for beyond Aboriginal students?
    4. 4. Awareness among remote students, staff and families Community awareness is very low Indigenous staff have little or no experience of internet themselves Non-indigenous staff are not necessarily aware either Students are learning digital media skills (music and video) but not digital citizenship
    5. 5. Online safety & privacy in remote areas Remote life  Online life Traditional literacies,  English, multi- non-English, non- literacies, digital digital community  Individual outcomes Group centred, and identities communally created  Emphasis on privacy knowledge Pressure to share PINs, passwords, images and emails.
    6. 6. How serious is it? Predatory behaviour Bullying Sexting
    7. 7. Community notions of Privacy But what is private in remote communities? Do western and traditional notions of privacy conflict? If so, what should / must the school do in light of community expectations, teacher concerns and Department privacy policy?
    8. 8. Sharing Indigenous Knowledge Remote communities already have a web presence. Misappropriation of indigenous knowledge (Nathan, 2000) “display the aspects of their environment, culture and people they wish to communicate to the outside” (Cassidy, 2007).
    9. 9. Developing staff knowledge Develop a school policy with input from all staff. Invite student input. Include privacy issues and a full acceptable use policy. Training for all staff in internet use including privacy and safety issues, especially regarding social media.
    10. 10. Developing awareness in remote students A policy/course explaining why online privacy and safety matter. Appropriate for remote students %20resources/Cybersmart%20Access.aspx Community awareness raising. Explore other remote communities web presence.
    11. 11. Discussion QuestionsHow can we convince remote students and their families that their on-line actions (privacy, safety) can immediately/ directly affect their daily lives?If community sensibilities require the sharing or making public of information we as teachers prefer students to keep private, is it appropriate for us to push for this, and if so, how?Is it necessary / appropriate / practical to develop a school / community policy regarding traditional knowledge being placed on the internet? How could this be monitored?
    12. 12. Suggested ReadingsDepartment of Education and Childrens Services, Government of South Australia. (2009). Cyber-Safety: Keeping children safe in a connected world. Available at of Health Government of South Australia. (2010). Cybersaftey Parent Easy Guide. Available at, I. (2010). Plugged in: Remote Australian indigenous youth and digital culture. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research Working Paper 69. Available at, I. (2011). Youth media as cultural practice: Remote Indigenous youth speaking out loud. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2011(1), 4-16.Tafler, D. (2000). The use of electronic media in remote communities. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1 & 2. pp. 27 – 38.