A recent case shows the Data Protection Act 1998 can be a powerful stick with which individuals can beat councils if they fail to respect their privacy when they use their photographs and CCTV images.
In October 2001, at a High Court hearing, Newham LBC (without admitting liability) agreed to pay a disabled girl£5,000 in damages and approximately£50,000 towards legal costs after using her photograph without her permission.
Jacklyn Adeniji was shunned after friends saw her face on the front of a brochure setting out Newham's Aids strategy. The legal action cited breach
This case comes as a salutary reminder to councils that they must be aware of privacy issues when taking and using photographs of people. No longer can they assume consent just because a person is within range of a camera.
In some cases express consent must be obtained, especially where a person is photographed in a context which may put him/her in a bad light. For example a simple photograph of a group of people walking in a high street may be okay without consent, but a shot of an individual walking into a sex shop may not.
It is not just photographs which have the potential to breach data protection and human rights legislation. A timely reminder of the privacy issues around this area come from a case declared admissible by the European Court of Human Rights (Peck v UK, May 15, 2001).
Geoff Peck felt so depressed he took a knife to Brentwood town centre and tried to cut his wrists. He was picked up on the council's CCTV system. The police were called and Mr Peck given medical assistance. The council released his images to the media without his consent. To his disgust, his images appeared in the local press and on television.
Mr Peck successfully complained to various media watchdogs for breach of privacy. He sued Brentwood BC. The High Court (pre-Human Rights Act) however rejected his claim, saying that distributing the images to the media was incidental to statutory provisions allowing councils to set up CCTV systems for crime prevention.
The case, yet to be ruled on by the European Court of Human rights, raises issues such as whether Mr Peck's right to respect for his private life was engaged by being filmed in public, the legality of any interference with his private life and whether it could be justified.
Both these cases show that, when it comes to CCTV and photographs of individuals, councils must be mindful of the data protection and human rights aspects. Those employed by councils to take, distribute or use such images must be trained to spot the legal issues.
Principal solicitor, Calderdale Council