Monday, April 21, 2008

England swings but you'd better keep your lens cap on

I hate to report one side of a story, but right now that's all that I've got.

Here's some text that is on Flickr:

My friend and I were photographing in the town. I spotted a man being detained by this security guard and a policeman, some kind of altercation was going on, i looked through my zoom lens to see what was happening and then moved on.

Moments later as i walked away this goon jumped in front of me and demanded to know what i was doing. i explained that i was taking photos and it was my legal right to do so, he tried to stop me by shoulder charging me, my friend started taking photos of this, he then tried to detain us both. I refused to stand still so he grabbed my jacket and said i was breaking the law. Quickly a woman and a guy wearing BARGAIN MADNESS shirts joined in the melee and forcibly grabbed my friend and held him against his will. We were both informed that street photography was illegal in the town.

Two security guards from the nearby shopping center THE MALL came running over, we were surrounded by six hostile and aggressive security guards. They then said photographing shops was illegal and this was private land. I was angry at being grabbed by this man so i pushed him away, one of the men wearing a BARGAIN MADNESS shirt twisted my arm violently behind my back, i winced in pain and could hardly breathe in agony.

A policewomen was radioed and came over to question the two suspects ( the total detaining us had risen to seven, a large crowd had now gathered)

The detaining guard released me, i asked the policewoman if my friend and i could be taken away from the six guards, she motioned us to a nearby seat and told all the security people to go. She took our details, name, address, date of birth etc. She wanted to check my camera saying it was unlawful to photograph people in public, i told her this was rubbish. we agreed to come with her and we sat in the back of a police car, she radioed back to the station to check our details, i explained to her the law regarding photography and handed over a MOO card, i asked to take her picture and she said no. We were free to go with no charge. I may press charges for unlawful detention and physical assault by the security guards, watch this space.

Lawrence's friend took a video at the same time:

Well, I'm certainly not an expert in British law. But if Lawrence and his friend were to sell the pictures of the security guard, they might run into a bit of trouble, even if your company name rhymes with boogle:

If you are caught on camera and complain to Google, Google will remove the pics. But that may not be enough for Europe's courts.

Our data protection regime lets us take holiday snaps, even of strangers, provided we're doing so for private purposes. But if we're taking snaps for commercial use, where individuals are identifiable, there is no such exemption. We need to notify the subjects, and that's hard for Google to do. Even a loudspeaker on top of the camera cars ("Hi, it's Google here, say 'cheese' everybody!") might not suffice.

The law sets extra requirements for so-called sensitive personal data: it demands explicit consent, not just notification. That means when taking pictures of someone leaving a church or sexual health clinic – which could reveal a religious belief or an illness – camera cars might need to pull over and start picking up signatures.

And even if the profit motive isn't present, there may be other issues:

The nature of this rule varies across Europe, but in the UK we have a right to prevent the display of an image that would cause substantial distress. All we have to do is send an email to Google asking that it does not display a picture of us: "Dear Google, I think your camera caught me in Hyde Park this lunch time canoodling with my wife's best friend. Please make sure I can't be seen in Google Maps because this may cause me substantial distress. I've attached a pic of what I look like." If Google refuses or ignores you, you can go to the Information Commissioner and ask him to enforce the right. If there's damage and distress, you can sue.

I'm sure that the security guard, or his solicitor or barrister (I forget the difference between the two, sorry) could cook up some type of claim that he was being harrassed by an aggressive photographer and an aggressive videographer, who then publicized his image on Flickr and subjected him to ridicule.

And then the solicitor/barrister/whatever would go after all of the people that spread the images, including...

Excuse me - was I saying something?

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