What Are The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?

The observation of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) is of very high importance in every field of life whether it is social, professional or academic. This act defines the standards by which personal information of people, in general, should be treated. The POPI Act is applicable to any person or institute that possesses people’s records of information that can be considered personal. Academic institutions are not excused from this law. Let’s learn about ‘What Are The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?’.

What Are The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?

What Are The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?

Teachers who share confidential information about other students and fail to comply with the Privacy Act of 1974 can be fined for up to $5,000. In the US, the Privacy Act was passed on December 31, 1974 and compliance is a requirement by law. It is very important for all academic institutions to manage student, parent, teacher and support staff information accordingly and protect their rights as per the Privacy Act. This law would be crucial for teachers to adhere to as they mostly have access to records and information of children who are 18 years or younger, these are people who are sometimes not able to provide consent on their own. Teachers play a significant role in making sure that the personal information of students is kept confidential. The legal system relies on educators and other academic institution staff to ensure that students’ personal information is protected.

When it comes to students, personal information includes exam results, photos, fingerprints and any other sensitive information. Teachers have a huge responsibility to make certain that confidential information is protected. There is a Privacy Act information sheet that outlines every detail related to the protection of students’ information in an academic setting, this includes the consequences of not protecting the students’ information.

Consequences Of Teachers Not Complying To The Privacy Act: What Are The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?

The first consequence of teachers violating the Privacy Act is reputational damage to the teacher themselves and the specific school and academic institution as a whole. There is a lack of trust in the entire institution and staff. The reputational damage leads to the stakeholders losing their trust in the institution, they lose confidence in the fact that their right to privacy will be taken seriously. The Consequences For Teachers Who Share Confidential Information About Their Students?

Apart from the reputational damage, teachers not adhering to the Privacy Act will be evidence of clear disorientation between the school’s values and ethos and the management’s actions to support these values.  

How Non-Compliance To The Privacy Act Affects Relations With Other Stakeholders In Schools?

There is also a negative representation to the parents or guardians that the students in the school’s care are not being afforded the standard minimum respect that the law entitles them. It shows a lack of openness, honesty and transparency in the provision of information to which stakeholders are entitled. 

One of the most crucial disadvantages or consequences, however, is the potential for financial loss not only by means of being fined for not protecting the personal information of students but potential financial loss as donors, fee payers and sponsors will reconsider their investment in the school as a potential threat to their own personal information has been demonstrated as the privacy of students’ confidential information was not respected. This will minimize and reduce opportunities for any potential future investment in the institution. 

What Can Educational Institutions Do To Avoid The Misuse Of Students’ Confidential Information?

It is very important that any person that has access to or records of private and personal information of another person to; assign or reevaluate the role of an information officer, to create awareness to the Privacy Act and the importance of compliance to the Act, develop a compliance framework (which will include policies, processes and a personal information impact assessment) and lastly implement all steps necessary in ensuring that the Privacy Act is observed at all times.


In conclusion, adherence to the Privacy Act is of utmost importance as its breach results in a potential penalty of up to $5,000 and may also cause the loss of financial assistance from donors and sponsors of that specific academic institution. Students rely mostly on teachers to keep their confidential information private. There are compliance frameworks that teachers can use as a guideline and that also outline the steps to make sure that privacy is observed at all times.

Frequently asked questions
  • Question 1 How does the Privacy Act affect schools?

Answer: Schools or academic institutions that do not abide by the legislated Privacy Act will be liable to pay a penalty of up to $5,000.

  • Question 2 Are there any other laws that protect the personal information of students in school?

Answer: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is another law passed in 1974 that ensures that students’ personal information is kept confidential.

  • Question 3 How can students’ privacy be violated?

Answer: A student’s right of privacy is violated when confidential information is unlawfully given to third parties without permission, or when a student faces an unofficial search of his locker or backpack.

  • Question 4 Can teachers talk about students to other teachers?

Answer: Teachers are able to discuss with one another or with a parent about a student but, according to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), any personally recognizable information may not be released without the parent’s permission in the case of a minor or the student’s if they’re 18+.