Saturday, November 06, 2010

Watchdog warns about street pictures

Watchdog warns photographers over street pictures
- Amateur Photographer

Here is an interesting story about publishing images of people who object to having their picture taken in public.

The key to the story is in the first paragraph: "If a person 'actively objects' to having their picture taken in a public place then photographers should not publish that image, the privacy watchdog has warned."

Clearly, you can TAKE the pictures, but it then becomes a matter of judgment about publishing them. Sensible enough, you might think. But, what does 'actively object' mean?

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in the UK tells Amateur Photographer magazine: 'If an individual actively objects to having their photo taken or if a photograph is taken without an individual's consent in circumstances which could clearly cause them distress or embarrassment, then it is good practice not to use that image.'

That's not good enough. There are many occasions when it WOULD be good practice to USE that image. For example, a police officer assaulting a member of the public would no doubt 'actively object' to having their picture taken and it would cause them distress and embarrassment if that picture were published. Yet, it would be in the public interest to ensure that such an image had the widest possible audience. And what about candid pictures? Many people would object to seeing themselves in a strange light.

Also, what if you came across a drunken teenage girl in the street and it was a good illustration for a story? Good judgment would dictate that the girl should not be identifiable. However, when she sobers up, she and her friends might know it's her in the picture and she could 'actively object' to its use. Should you then suppress the image? I think not.

So, the ICO warning is as clear as mud, if indeed it is a warning at all. What are they warning about? What happens if such pictures are published?

And it does not, of course, address the real issues.

It is not illegal to take photographs in a public place in the UK (yet!) As the ICO itself adds: "[The Data Protection Act] does not stipulate that photographers, whether professional or amateur, must gain the consent of everyone they photograph before they publish photos." [Let alone take the pictures in the first place!]

Sensible and responsible photographers should always exercise judgment, of course. But the whole issue of photography in a public place and publication on the internet has arisen because of the ridiculous concept - perpetuated by some ignorant people wearing uniforms - that everyone carrying a camera is a criminal (maybe even a terrorist or a pedophile).

Moveover, the ICO fudges the internet issue entirely: "While the ICO this week said it has no plans to issue 'specific guidance' on the use of photographs, the spokesman added: 'However, the publication of photos online is part of a wider issue about individuals' use of the internet which is an issue we are looking at.'"

Correct me if I am wrong, but the internet has been around for quite a while now. Isn't it about time someone 'stopped looking' and actually said something constructive?

Should I publish this picture?

'Actively objecting'
The driver of an old Jaguar 'actively objected' to my taking pictures of him and his car that had broken down and was belching steam.

I was photographing the London to Brighton Jaguar Run so this ruling, quoted from the ICO is clearly relevant: 'Professional and amateur photographers taking photos in the street, at a festival or at a football match, for example, do not need to obtain the consent of the individuals who appear in their photos.'

The picture is a good illustration of the passion people have for their old cars, which is the whole point of the Jaguar Run. I'm sure he would have been happy if it was just a picture of his beautiful car before it broke down, so he was fair game.
In my opinion, including him in a gallery of the event is the right judgment. His objection not only makes the picture but also illustrates the event itself.

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