Photographers fear online privacy revamp will ban street pics (update 1)
April 8, 2010
Page One: Photographers to protest against online privacy code rewrite
The UK privacy watchdog has rubbished claims by photographers that new data protection guidelines will all but ban them from working in public places.
The controversy centres on the implications of the Personal Information Online Code of Practice, which is expected to be published by the Information Commissioner?s Office (ICO) later this year.
As we revealed in 2009, the privacy watchdog announced plans to revamp its guidelines in light of the spiralling distribution of digital information on the internet.
Under the new rules, photographers fear they will have to obtain permission from anyone included in a photo taken in a public place, before publishing it.
The code, a draft version of which is available to view on the ICO website, states: ?Wherever you collect personal data from, you still have an overarching duty to handle it fairly and to comply with the rules of data protection. If in doubt, it is good practice, where possible, to contact the person concerned to ask if they agree to their personal data being used in a particular way.?
A spokeswoman for the ICO confirmed to Amateur Photographer (AP) that a photograph would fall under the term ?personal data?.
Tonight a group of London-based photographers called So Shoot Me are staging an exhibition to protest against the guidelines, which they see as part of ?ever-increasing controls? imposed by the UK government on street photography.
?The [Data Protection] regulations will all but ban professional photographers from working in public places, with the stipulation that a photographer must ask permission of all people who appear in their photographs to avoid illegally possessing “personal data”,? the group claimed in a statement.
Celine Marchbank, one of the organisers, added: ?Despite the CCTV and camera phone-obsessed world we live in, the government will require photographers to gain permission from every single person that might appear in any shot.?
However, the ICO insists that its new guidelines, to be published before the end of the year, will not outlaw street photography.
?If you are in a public place and there is a reasonable expectation of you being photographed, the likelihood of you breaching the Data Protection Act is very, very slim,? an ICO spokeswoman told AP.
?If you are in a public place there is a high expectation that you can be caught on CCTV. In no way are we saying you can?t take pictures in the street.?
The watchdog claims that its position on street photography hasn?t changed.
Any photo that is for ?personal use?, such as Facebook, is not covered by ?personal information? rules, the ICO insists.
However, once that image is published for commercial gain then the ICO may consider it a potential breach if the person in the photo later complains.
But what about an amateur photographer?s portfolio displayed on their personal website, where prints are also available for the public to buy? If someone in a photo later complains about their inclusion, what happens then?
Case by case basis
The ICO claims there is a very small chance such an image would breach the Act and that any complaint would be dealt with on a ?case by case? basis.
The watchdog urges all photographers, professional and amateur, to adopt a ?common sense? approach.
But it is not clear under what circumstances an image would trigger a breach of data protection rules.
Asked whether an example of such a complaint may be if a person, identifiable in the photo, is pictured outside a café with someone he or she is not supposed to be with, the ICO confirmed this could be a ?potential breach.?
The spokeswoman said if that image is then displayed in an ?exhibition? the ICO would deem it ?not best practice? but stressed that it would still be ?unlikely? to have breached the Act.
If the subject in a photo objects to having their picture taken at the time, the ICO advises photographers to point out they are in a public place and to explain what they intend to do with the image. ?They can?t tell you to stop taking the photograph,? said the ICO spokeswoman.
She added: ?If someone looks uncomfortable they can?t stop you from taking a photo – it just means they don?t want to be in that shot.?
Page Two: Read full statement from privacy watchdog
SPECIAL REPORTThe So Shoot Me campaigners are due to protest against the new guidelines by projecting images onto a screen of handheld white boards at various locations around London including Trafalgar Square and The Book Club at 100 Leonard Street.
The public consultation process for the new guidelines ended last month.
The ICO told us that, to date, it has never taken action against a photographer.
Statement by Information Commissioner?s Office:
?The Date Protection Act in no way prevents people taking photos in public places and publishing them online. Photographers taking photos in the street, at a festival or at a match, for example, do not need to obtain the consent of the individuals who appear in their photos. In fact, photos taken for personal use, such as a family album or social networking page, are not even covered by the Act.
?Should an individual actively object to having their photo taken, or request that their image is removed from a website then it is good practice not to use their image. However, the Act does not stipulate photographers must gain the consent of everyone they photograph before they publish photos. It is entirely reasonable in today?s technology age that photographers, whether for hobby or amateur use, share images online. So long as the photographer acts sensibly photos taken for amateur purposes in public places are not going to breach the Act.?